It turned out to be a new iPad -- you may have heard of it -- and millions of people want one.
Apple sent invitations to the media a week ahead of time that pretty much gave away the fact that it was going to announce a new iPad. Apple stopped just short of actually saying "we're announcing a new iPad next week," although the giant photo of a high-resolution iPad on the invitation was less-than-subtle.
Let's not forget that Apple also announced iPads in March of 2010 and 2011 too, so it doesn't take a soothsayer, mystic or a shaman to figure out that Apple would probably announce "the new" iPad in March of 2012 too.
And if you couldn't figure out that a new iPad was coming yesterday, Apple's began manufacturing the new iPads back in November and there has been a steady drumbeat of component/part and spec leaks all over the Interwebs for four months now.
Even if you've been living under a proverbial rock or just awoken from a three-year coma, it wouldn't take more than reading one newspaper, blog or website to realize that there's this killer "Post PC" product called "the iPad" that everyone is raving about! Kids, techies, grandparents, even your Mom. Everyone from CNBC anchors to two-year-old kids has an iPad. I have friends that have 4-5 iPads under one roof.
"What's your point?" I can almost hear you asking. My point is that if my one-year-old son and 81-year-old mother-in-law know about the iPad, then it's popular. And Apple knows this.
Apple sold 55 million iPads to date and is expected to sell 62 million more in 2012, so Apple knows that it has captured lightning in a bottle. Yet despite its reputation for being a supply-chain jedi and manufacturing ninja, Apple didn't anticipate that a lot of people would want to order iPads the moment that the Apple Store opened for business.
As soon as Apple took down the tacky "We'll be right back" post-it note on its billion-dollar-bill printing press (known as the Apple online store) yesterday the site slowed to a crawl and started throwing errors like it was serving Active Server Pages from a netbook connected to an old ISDN line in Tim Cook's basement.
That's right, the most valuable company in the world, one with $100 billion in liquid assets couldn't afford toss a few million at its ecommerce server farm so that it could take money from frothy-mouthed consumers who couldn't wait to pony up the $500 to $1,000 per unit to buy Apple's shiny new toy?
Apple -- in all its forecasting wisdom -- didn't anticipate that millions of people would be clicking "pre-order now" button at the exactly same time?
Are you kidding me?
The person in charge of Apple's online store should be summarily fired. Like yesterday. That's what Steve Jobs would do. I'm sure he'd roll over in his grave if the iPhone they buried him with had enough battery to launch the Apple Store app during the embarrassing pre-order fiasco.
If I was an AAPL shareholder (which I am not) I'd be out for blood because Apple couldn't get its act together to take money from millions of willing consumers waiting to enter their 16-digit credit card account numbers into Apple's web form.
Michael Dell dreams of having problems like this.
The answer is actually quite simple. When there will be a lot of demand, plan for it. Estimate how many people will place pre-orders on day one (in 2011 Apple sold 300,000 iPad 2s on the first day, so I'd plan on 3 million) then build the appropriate capacity. Then maybe double it again.
I'd allocate half the machines at Apple's new server farm in Maiden, NC to be a giant application farm just for taking iPad orders, then I'd allocate the other half as a hot fail-over if the first batch of servers failed. To hell with iTunes Match or iCloud or whatever else Apple is using it for.
Then it should have two more contingency plans.
Apple could have learned from scrappy startup Raspberry Pi which set up a static page ahead of taking orders for its bargain-basement (and highly anticipated) $25 ARM/GNU Linux PC (below). Apple could have easily put up a flat page that accepted (but didn't process) iPad orders.
Have you even eaten at a restaurant only to be told that "the credit card machine is down?" What did they do? Send you home? Turn you away? No! They improvised and probably wrote down your credit card information (long-hand, if necessary) and charged your card later.
Apple could have taken a page out of the rock band Phish's playbook and offered iPads via a "request system." In order to not kill its servers on ticket day the band promises nothing and instead takes "ticket requests" over a 7-12 day period. Them, after the request window closes, it randomly selects the winning orders, charges the credit cards, emails the winners (and losers) then mails the tickets a few weeks later. Using the Phish system there's no benefit to being the first order in, they're all weighted the same and it's simply luck of the draw. And guess what? The server never crashes.
If felt like Apple had a creaky old MacPro running one lousy instance of AIX and one lame application server serving its entire online store -- and guess what? It crashed. (Maybe that's why Apple's looking for an eCommerce QA Systems Integration Manager?)
I eventually got my iPad order in at around 6:45 pm ET (by using the iOS app on my iPhone) but guess what? That got screwed up to. I ended with two separate orders instead of one.
[Anyone want to buy my extra iPad? I'm selling it off a server running on a Raspberry Pi box connected to a WAP-server on an old Nokia phone in my garage. Sorry, I couldn't resist!]