By Dan Moren
June 21, 2018 6:38 AM PT
AirPower, AirPower, wherefore art thou?
Note: This story has not been updated for several years.
One thing missing from Apple’s WWDC keynote–and from the March education event before that–was any news about the company’s AirPower wireless charging mat, first announced at a media event in September of last year with a release date of sometime in 2018.
Writing today for Bloomberg, Mark Gurman says that the accessory may finally appear in September, and chalks the delays up to technical problems:
An executive at an Apple partner that manufactures third-party wireless chargers for iPhones, who asked not to be identified, said that the multi-device charging mechanism is challenging to build because it likely requires different sized charging components for the three types of devices, which would all overlap across the mat.
These technical challenges jibe with what I’d heard, secondhand, at WWDC.1
What remains peculiar about this episode, however, is the fact that Apple announced this product before it was ready to ship. This has become a trend more recently with Apple: the Apple Watch, AirPods, HomePod, even the forthcoming Mac Pro–the company has become much more willing to pre-announce products. That’s resulted in risks, too: the AirPods and HomePod were both delayed from their original release targets.
However, the AirPower takes this to the extreme. While the AirPods and HomePod were delayed by a couple months each, likely due to either being able to manufacture the products at scale or last minute software adjustments. The AirPower, by contrast, seems to not even be in production yet, reinforcing the idea of challenges with the device’s engineering.
Nor is this a case like Apple’s software releases where the company wants to give time for developers to adopt new features introduced in releases that won’t appear for several months. There’s no software developer component to the AirPower.
So, why? Why introduce the AirPower before it was ready to ship in the first place? Apple has been selling third-party charging pads in their stores since it added wireless charging capabilities to the iPhone line last year, so it wasn’t as though there was no way to use the feature without the AirPower. Perhaps it wanted to put a stake in the ground and encourage people to wait for the AirPower? (Although with no firm release date or price point, that was going to be a hard sell.)
I don’t have a good answer to this question; this seems to be a rare misstep from Apple on a product that, let’s be honest, is hardly going to have the impact of a new iPhone or Mac. Either the AirPower team was mistaken about how ready the product was last fall (or how hard the remaining engineering would be), or the readiness of the product was misrepresented to Apple leadership. Because it’s hard to imagine Phil Schiller getting up on stage to announce an accessory he knew wouldn’t be available for a year.
We may never have a really good answer to this question. At best, you might expect an offhanded comment at its release about how difficult it was to get the execution right and how impressive the result is, but no company ever really wants to admit it made a mistake.
It will be interesting, however, to see if this has any ultimate impact on Apple’s recent strategy of pre-announcing some of its devices. Might the company be a little cagier in the future, a little more conservative? I doubt this will have any impact on a major product such as the next iPhone–Apple’s not about to take risks with its bread and butter. But it might be one reason that hardware was nowhere to be seen at WWDC: when there’s nothing ready to go, you don’t want to make any promises you can’t keep.
- Jason and I discussed this on a recent episode of the Six Colors Secret Subscriber Podcast. ↩
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at email@example.com. The latest novel in his Galactic Cold War series of sci-fi space adventures, The Nova Incident, is available now.]
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