This Is Why Apple Is Eating Your Lunch

Apple may be many things, but they know how to get their products to market on time. Why does everyone else have a problem with this?

I've come down hard on Apple's shortcomings and distorted view of reality in the past, but there's no arguing that when it comes to marketing and selling their products, they are at the top of their game.

On November 10th, the Samsung Galaxy Tab went on sale through T-Mobile. At least, that was the intention. The reality is another story entirely. I wanted to get one from T-Mobile because I currently own a G2 Android smartphone with service through T-Mobile, and I'm quite happy with the service and customer support.

I started calling around to authorized T-Mobile stores in the neighborhood where I work, since I didn't want to take a trip only to find out there weren't any. It's a good thing I did. Only one store in downtown San Francisco had any in stock. It was too far a walk for me to get to in time, and it wouldn't have mattered. They only received five units and were sold out of them less than 10 minutes after the store opened.

I started widening my search. There weren't any other stores in the area that received units. I called my local T-Mobile store about 20 miles south, thinking I could pick one up on the way home if they would hold one for me. They didn't receive any and told me they weren't going to. They didn't even receive a mock-up display device or promotional materials. It turns out that only a limited number were shipped out to major regional stores, which are few and far between.

Since my intention was to buy an unbundled tablet with no service, as I wanted to tether the device over Wi-Fi to my existing phone, the cellular provider of the device didn't really matter to me. I started calling Verizon Wireless stores. Turns out they had similar issues--only one major business store in each city region would be getting devices and it was first-come, first-served. I could have bought one over the phone and picked it up on the way home, but only if I already had an existing Verizon account.

I called T-Mobile's online ordering, and was told that it would take 2-4 days to ship a device out to me. Their computer inventory system was reporting the device was out of stock and back-ordered. At this point, I was pretty much fed up with the entire process. This was the most eagerly awaited tablet device since the iPad, and no one could actually manage to get it in stock and sell it to customers on the day it was released.

I finally did receive a call back from T-Mobile and was informed that their Texas warehouse received a substantial shipment, and they could send me one right away. Right away being four days later, with a total turnaround time of approximately a week. I really didn't want to spend any more time chasing down the device, so I paid for it with my credit card over the phone and I am waiting patiently for it to arrive next week.

My co-conspirator Jason Perlow doesn't work in a traditional office, and has Verizon cellular service, so he was at liberty to reserve one from his local Verizon store and pick one up on November 11. You can read about his experience with the device here. I plan on using the device in a different manner than Jason does, so I will have my own report on it here next week.

My take-away from this experience is that I am beginning to believe that only Apple knows how to properly market and sell consumer devices like this. Apple's method is to hold a press conference to describe what they're selling, how it can be used, what options there will be, how much it will cost and when it goes on sale. If the items go on sale after the press conference, Apple has already made sure that all of their stores have the devices in stock and ready to be sold the moment the press conference is concluded. The same goes for their online store.

It's unusual for Apple to have major delays in delivery of a promised device or software update. The white iPhone 4, for instance, is having technical issues and may not even be delivered at all. I'm not going to knock Apple for this, because they did announce delays way ahead of the release date, and complications do arise in manufacturing.

On the other hand, if a device has been selling well in Europe for months, and mobile phone carriers in the US provide hard sale dates for the device, it's in their best interests to make sure the device is actually available to sell to the public. How many times has Microsoft told people that their new gee-whiz operating system will be out for the 2007 holiday season, and then pushed back the release date to the following year?

Sure, you can compare that to the white iPhone 4 issue, but it doesn't really compare because there's already a working iPhone 4 on the market. It's not like the entire iPhone 4 line was help off or canceled. Microsoft has a history of delays, whereas Apple usually doesn't announce something until they actually have it ready and available.

It's a smart marketing tactic: people won't be complaining about delays of an anticipated new product if they don't even know it's coming. They will leak subtle hints to build up anticipation, but they typically do not promise a firm release date until they're sure they can meet it. One thing Apple is not guilty of is promising vaporware.

I want the other tablet manufacturers and mobile carriers to pay very close attention to this issue, because Mickey Mouse crap like this is the reason why Apple is now the number one tech company in the world. They didn't get there by resting on their past successes.