AirPods miss is not Apple's first holiday sales flub

AirPods miss is not Apple's first holiday sales flub

Apple's inability to ship its new AirPods wireless ear buds before the holiday sales season wasn't its first misstep in providing product at the end of a year.

Even so, one analyst discounted the damage done. "I think it's a minor blow to the brand, but not a big one, long term," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "[But] if there are continued hiccups then this, of course, changes."

When Apple in September introduced the $159 AirPods alongside the iPhone 7S and 7S Plus, executives said that the headphones would be available in October. But late that month, Apple confirmed that the AirPods were delayed. It did not offer a reason for the postponement or schedule a new ship date, instead saying, "We need a little more time before AirPods are ready for our customers."

Today, the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) said the delayed AirPods release meant Apple would miss the important holiday sales season.

While stumbles like this have been rare for Apple, it wasn't the first time the company has either postponed an announced product or launched new hardware with so little inventory that months-long shortages develop instantly.

A 2010-2011 misstep was the most like what the AirPods are going through.

In June 2010, as it introduced the then-new iPhone 4, Apple said it would sell a first-ever white smartphone. Within days, however, it acknowledged "challenging" manufacturing issues and said the white model would be delayed until late July. It later revised that to the end of 2010.

It wasn't until April 2011, just months before unveiling the iPhone 5, that Apple started shipping the white iPhone 4.

But Apple has had other product blunders that involved the important consumer sales season.

Three years ago, Apple pulled the wraps from the redesigned Mac Pro. Within just hours of putting the new desktop up for sale on Dec. 19, 2013, Apple pushed the ship date into February 2014. Four months after sales started, the Mac Pro was still backordered four to six weeks, an unprecedented delay for a Mac personal computer.

The Mac Pro incident was similar to a more grievous error the year before when Apple rolled out a revamped iMac a month after it had introduced the personal computer. Because of very tight supplies of the iMac and the fact that Apple had withdrawn its predecessor from its online and retail stores, the firm's most popular desktop missed the 2012 holiday season. Several months later, Apple said that iMac sales for the fourth quarter of 2012 had been down by 700,000 unit from the year prior.

In a rare mea culpa, Apple CEO Tim Cook admitted that the iMac launch had been poorly handled. "If we could run it over, frankly, I would have announced the iMac after the turn of the year, because we felt our customers had to wait too long for that specific product," Cook said during an April 2013 conference call with Wall Street.

"This delay is [different] in that we're not talking about shortages on a finished product, but an announced product that's delayed," said Moorhead of the AirPods when asked to compare its situation to the problematic Mac Pro and iMac rollouts.

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