Why is Apple winning? See white iPhone debacle

Why is Apple winning? See white iPhone debacle

Summary: When Apple released the white iPhone 4 in April, a lot of people were scratching their heads. Others simply snickered.

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When Apple released the white iPhone 4 in April, a lot of people were scratching their heads. Others simply snickered. The product suffered a 10-month delay and a string of broken promises from Apple that it was "coming soon." That's not like Apple, which is usually as efficient as a blood-thirsty dictator.

At the time the white iPhone arrived, most in the tech industry were expecting the next iPhone to be released just a couple months later in June/July, since that's been Apple's pattern for the past four years. In retrospect, the launch of the white iPhone in April along with the launch of the Verizon iPhone in January should have been clear signs that pattern wasn't going to continue this year. The current expectation is thatthe next iPhone will arrive this fall, potentially sporting Verizon LTE 4G connectivity.

The change in release schedule has certainly given the white iPhone 4 a longer shelf life. But, the significance of this product has nothing to do with the fact that it will likely be on the market for just 5-6 months. It's about the power of "No."

This email promotion for the white iPhone 4 even has Apple poking fun at the delay. Photo credit: Apple

The power of 'No'

The significance of the white iPhone 4 is that Apple didn't release it until it got it right. The company apparently said "No" to the product over and over again because it wasn't quite right and Apple felt that customers wouldn't have been happy with it.

Apple has never specifically said what problems it had with the white iPhone. Its primary statement was a terse press release on June 23, 2010 that stated, "White models of Apple's new iPhone 4 have proven more challenging to manufacture than expected."

However, the most common theory is that the white iPhone 4 suffered from light leakage, due to the fact that white materials are a little more transparent than black. It sounds like Apple experimented with different materials, pigments, and designs to make it look right so that it didn't turn yellow instead of white.

In the grand scheme of things, that doesn't sound very important, and it isn't. But, what is important is that Apple said "No" to the product repeatedly, swallowed its pride, and endured ridicule over the delay. Apple waited until it got it right, or at least right enough.

The same can't be said for many Apple competitors recently. Google, Motorola, and Verizon released the Xoom before the Honeycomb UI was finished and app developers had time to rework their apps. Research in Motion released the BlackBerry PlayBook before Flash, the Android emulator, and several promised apps were ready. Last fall, Samsung released the Galaxy Tab before there was even a version of Android that worked well on tablets. This week we have another good example with Nokia announcing the Nokia N9 running Meego, an OS that Nokia has spurned in favor of Windows Phone 7. Why even release a product running a platform that you don't intend to support in the years ahead?

I review a lot of products every year -- most of the best products in tech. However, I also have a lot of products that come across my desk that I never review because they aren't finished or because they are obviously patchwork products designed by committee or because I simply want to ask myself, "Why would anyone actually release this?" or "Who would use this?"

Steve Jobs on "No"

In recent years, Steve Jobs has famously said, "I'm actually as proud of many of the things we haven't done as the things we have done."

Jobs has said this numerous times and to various audiences. However, this is not a recent conclusion. If you go back to when Jobs first returned to Apple in the late 1990s, he loudly proclaimed that the key to turning things around at Apple and releasing better products was learning how to say, "No." Here's what Jobs told the audience at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference in 1997:

"When you think about focusing, you think focusing is saying, 'yes.' No, focusing is saying, 'no.' You've got to say, 'no, no, no, no, no.' And, when you say 'no,' you piss off people and they go talk to the San Jose Mercury [News] and they write a shitty article about you. And, it's really a pisser because you want to be nice... So, you take the lumps, and Apple has been taking their share of lumps for the last six months in a very unfair way and has been taking them like an adult, and I'm proud of that... But, focus is about saying 'no' and the result of that focus is going to be some really great products."

Bottom line

The lesson here is not that companies should always wait until their products are absolutely perfect before they release them. If that were the case, very few products would ever make it to market, and many of them would be too late to make a difference. The key is knowing when a product is perfect enough and when you should hold a product for improvements versus releasing it to get it in the hands of eager customers. That's the hard part, but it's also the thing that great companies do well.

Another tech company other than Apple that may get it right in 2011 is HP. Since the company bought Palm last year, it has been working on a tablet that marries the goodness of webOS with the tablet hardware expertise of HP. The HP TouchPad officially arrives on July 1 and the company has taken some heat for the extended delay. But, CEO Léo Apotheker recently said, "We will not release a product that isn't perfect." Given the trail of incomplete tablets that have littered the market so far in 2011, that could bode well for the TouchPad (look for TechRepublic's full coverage of the TouchPad next week, including a business-centric review and an extensive hardware analysis).

This article was originally published on TechRepublic.

Topics: Hardware, Apple, iPhone, Laptops, Mobility, Smartphones, Tablets

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  • RE: Why is Apple winning? See white iPhone debacle

    I don't disagree with the Apple part, but if what a couple of your fellow ZD'ers recently wrote is to hold true, the HP TouchPad has already been declared a flop. If HP can't even identify the value quotient in a market where the only realistic way left to differentiate one's self is price, I would have serious doubts about calling anything they make "perfect".
    Playdrv4me
    • RE: Why is Apple winning? See white iPhone debacle

      @Playdrv4me

      WELL SAID. WELL SAID!!

      :)
      OmarHash
      • RE: Why is Apple winning? See white iPhone debacle

        yes and add the fact that apple isn't only a brandname. It's getting kinda like a lifestyle. So many people buying nothing but apple tools. <a href="http://www.hotel-klughardt.de">Hotel Nuernberg</a>
        TeddMosby
    • RE: Why is Apple winning? See white iPhone debacle

      @Playdrv4me HP hasn't made a "perfect" product in years... the number of people I know with consumer level HP and Compaq laptops that just randomly die when the battery dies is proof enough of that.
      Champ_Kind
    • RE: Why is Apple winning? See white iPhone debacle

      There was an iPhone3G(S) in white, early iMacs were white, Magic and Mighty Mouse is white, Macbooks are white. White is practically Apple's 'theme' colour. So I really can't see that the iPhone 4 in white should be so challenging to manufacturer. It's merely a marketing ploy.
      pianoman1962
      • Yeah... But... (and it's a big one..)

        @pianoman1962
        Didn't Apple also take a LOT of flak for some of said white iMacs turning yellow and such? I seem to recall some gaff or other about it back in the day having to do with that.
        Wolfie2K3
  • Good Points Jason

    A sign of poor management is the constant desire to "do something". This is to show that upper management is aggressive, and worthy of their fat paychecks and big offices.
    This also shows us why many companies cannot say "no" once a project gets started. They are so bureaucratic that they cannot turn the ship around fast enough.
    otaddy
    • RE: Why is Apple winning? See white iPhone debacle

      @otaddy

      Totally agree. Well put!
      mrkjd
    • RE: Why is Apple winning? See white iPhone debacle

      @otaddy

      Well said, I am plan on liberally poaching this quote!
      mobile_manny
    • RE: Why is Apple winning? See white iPhone debacle

      @otaddy
      Shame Jobs was not as robust on saying no to the iPhone 4 'do something' antenna. "It's just beautiful, and well engineered" from what I remember if the IP4 keynote.
      neilpost
  • RE: Why is Apple winning? See white iPhone debacle

    I say "yes" to "no" if it results in better and more "magical" products, but unfortunately that still doesn't make waiting any easier!
    netzd
    • Saying 'No' to white iPhone until it is ready is good example, but it is ..

      @netzd: ... <b>nothing new to Jobs</b>. He was never "cheap" on the matter of releasing product as fast as possible, even if not ready.

      )Apple had its (small) share with mediocre products like initial release MobileMe only since it was not impossible to Jobs and his high-end team to see the glitches on their own. It is easier with hardware like iPhone, though.)
      DDERSSS
    • Well said

      @netzd
      As a long time (but not exclusively) Apple customer, I couldn't agree more!`
      use_what_works_4_U
    • Doesn't it show that superficial style is more important ..

      @netzd ... than functionality (to Apple and Apple buyers)? We can't have that style messed up by cracks or yellowing. Then again, I think my 3G was yellowed - it was definitely cracked, as were most 3G's. The emperor is naked.
      Schoolboy Bob
      • Because, of course, you wear burlap for clothing and strap

        rawhide to your feet. After all, all you need is functionality. Who cares about style? It's just superficial. I'll bet you're just tons of fun at a museum or art show. I can see it now:

        What a waste of Titanium, making a white pigment. Sheesh, it's just superficial style.
        fr_gough
    • The &quot;Cook Doctrine&quot;

      @netzd

      I love this quote from Tim Cook in 1FQ09's earnings call when asked about what Apple stood for on their product line and life without Steve at the helm:

      <i>We believe that we?re on the face of the Earth to make great products, and that?s not changing.

      We?re constantly focusing on innovating.

      We believe in the simple, not the complex.

      We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products we make, and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution.

      We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us.

      We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot.

      And frankly, we don?t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit when we?re wrong and the courage to change.

      And I think, regardless of who is in what job, those values are so embedded in this company that Apple will do extremely well.</i>
      Bruizer
  • I caved

    I'm one of those individuals that caved into Apple and bought the white iPhone. I know a new one is coming this year, but I wanted unlimited data with Verizon, so I jumped on it. I absolutely love the white iPhone!
    DougDC
  • RE: Why is Apple winning? See white iPhone debacle

    Also recently Apple's manufacturing company expressed that Apple's devices were "very difficult to make".

    Translation - Apple demands very high quality in all its products all around, making it harder to build than its competition.
    dave95.
    • RE: Why is Apple winning? See white iPhone debacle

      @dave95. But yet Apple haters will without doubt claim how much they suck and they are junk and blah blah blah.
      Bates_
      • RE: Why is Apple winning? See white iPhone debacle

        @Bates_

        Steve Jobs quotes "ITunes is the best software ever made for the PC" LOL hmmm I think 99.99999% of people disagree !

        Then recently "The PC model is broken" Really? why are fortune 500 companies using PCs 99.99999999% of the time and PC has a 90% market share ! yawn.... Safari.... NOT Winning! Iphone ... NOT winning! The Androids surpassed Iphone market and the Windows Phone 7 / 7.5 will absolutely make a come back watch and see !!
        tazmanrising