Jun 8, 2022 - Technology

Apple's long product-release game

Photo of an iPhone lock screen shifting from one preset to another with a user's thumb poised above
Apple showed off small improvements to the iPhone, like personalized lock screens, at its developer conference. Image: Apple's WWDC keynote video

Apple-watchers viewing the company's Monday developer's conference keynote were disappointed that the company failed, once again, to unveil a world-changing new headset device, or even acknowledge that one was on the way.

They forgot a key principle Apple operates by: It never makes the first move in a new product category. Instead, it waits for just the right moment to bring that new product to a broad consumer market.

The big picture: It's a wide-open secret that Apple has been working on a headset or smart-goggles product to serve as its entrant in the battle to define and control the next big platform after the smartphone.

  • The company has commissioned Hollywood directors such as Jon Favreau (a producer of "Prehistoric Planet" on Apple TV+) to create content for its goggles, the New York Times reported Saturday.

The long-rumored headset product has become a more urgent priority for Apple as its rivals have ramped up efforts in this area.

  • Facebook changed its name to Meta last year and is rebuilding its entire identity around a push into the 3D metaverse led by the company's VR headsets, like Quest.
  • Google was one of the first entrants into the augmented reality market with Glass. Microsoft's expensive HoloLens has been one of the more advanced contenders.

Yes, but: Apple has never rushed into a market just to be first.

  • The iPhone's unveiling came after years of successful — but not blockbuster — products from other firms in the cellphone-meets-computing category, such as those from Palm, BlackBerry and Danger.
  • Microsoft shipped tablets well before Apple's iPad launched.
  • The iPod arrived well after many other companies had tried to sell MP3 players — but failed to develop easy-to-use interfaces paired with generous storage.

Over the years, Apple, following the Steve Jobs playbook, has perfected the fine art of timing new products.

  • It seeks just the right moment when the power of the available chips, the cost of components and advances in materials combine to bring some new capability to life that might dazzle buyers.
  • If those stars don't align, the product doesn't ship. Apple is happy for other companies to take the "bleeding edge" blows.

The flip side to this is that Apple can go for long dry stretches without the release of a big-deal new device — and sometimes, despite the rumors, it never ends up pressing the launch button.

  • After long years of exploration Apple never ended up shipping its own TV set, and now it probably never will.
  • Apple projects aimed at producing its own auto or autonomous vehicle have borne no substantial fruit to date.

All this caution can leave Apple at times appearing to tread water with relatively modest tweaks to its existing line.

  • That's how it looked Monday, as the company released a parade of incremental improvements and small tweaks to existing product lines.
  • Look! You'll soon be able to change the font on the clock on your iPhone lock screen! And here's yet another in a long list of Mac tools for organizing your open windows in ever more intricate ways!

Apple doesn't care that you're not impressed or that you're impatient. It will release its goggles when it's good and ready — not a minute, or a year, before.

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