AirPower Failure: What Apple Got Wrong
The folks from Cupertino pulled the plug on a wireless charger, although not before promising the world. But when marketers looked out and saw what else was coming into the market, they made a tough decision.
Executive director, Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship, Illinois Institute of Technology
One of the earliest rules of the natural sciences is that nature abhors a vacuum -- at least on planets, like Earth, that have an atmosphere. The rest of the universe -- not so much. Nothing in nature ever stands still -- it constantly evolves and adapts to new and changed conditions and circumstances. There's a continual process of creative destruction, renewal, and then new birth.
This process should sound painfully familiar to any entrepreneur because we live with it every day. In our world, even if you're on the right track, you'll still get run over if you just sit there. Competitors are running right behind you and they're ready to quickly copy everything you're doing except your mistakes. The only constant today is constant change.
Another elemental rule is that next to nothing in nature ultimately goes to waste - Mother Nature strives to efficiently reduce waste production and she's the ultimate recycler. It was mankind that created both material abundance and egregious waste and we've suffered for our excesses ever since. In the entrepreneur's world, scarcity and resource constraints are a given. Wastes of time, talent, or cash are cardinal sins for startups -- luxuries that no smart operator can afford. Squeezing the last drop out of everything and "making do" is the way the best businesses are bootstrapped and built.
Every time we hear another story of excessive spending and grandiose gestures by some unicorn, we know that it's just a matter of time before the other shoe drops along with that particular company's prospects for survival. And the outright scams just make the story even worse. You have to wonder how many more Fyre Festivals and Theranoses it's going to take before the suckers on both sides (consumers and investors) finally figure out that there's no light at the end of those tunnels.
In the real world, the best entrepreneurs incorporate both of these fundamental ideas -- no persistent vacuums and no avoidable waste -- into the development of their businesses. They often do this in an almost unconscious fashion, because these intrinsic ideas are essential to the process of creating any new enterprise.
Vacuums in the startup world are viewed as unmet needs, unfulfilled demand, and very attractive opportunities - plain and simple. Some vacuums are discovered while others are created. But the key is that no one can afford to sit on the sidelines and watch and wait because, in today's hyper-competitive world, things are simply moving too quickly. And, as often as not, it's not the big guys who are jumping on these opportunities, it's the fast and agile startups who are taking advantage of the growing gaps.
A recent case in point is the vacuum created by Apple's abandonment (after more than a year of hype and promises) of a project to bring a multi-device wireless charger to market. The AirPower wireless charging pad was not to be. The alleged reason is that Apple couldn't make a product that met its exceptionally high standards and one which would satisfy the expectations and desires of the company's very choosy customers. Maybe the big tech companies can afford to promote vaporware and phantom products for substantial periods of time and then just call it a day, but nobody else can. And, in fairness, I guess we should give them the benefit of the doubt. Not every product makes it successfully out the door no matter how hard you're trying or how sincere your efforts are.
But the more likely reason for the decision to dump the charging pad was that the marketing team at Apple saw the handwriting on the wall and decided that belatedly making and launching another stand-alone device in a world where wireless charging was rapidly being built into everything - from cars to card tables and into phones as well - was a bad plan.
So, they bagged the AirPower project and created a vacuum for the traditional after-market and accessory players like Belkin as well as an opening for new entrants. Killing a long-promised product is a tough call for any company, but clearly this was the right decision for Apple. Reminds me of the old admonition: no matter how far you've gone down the wrong road, it's never too late to turn back. Time today has a nasty way of turning your assets into liabilities and they were simply too late to the party.
Half a bad idea is still a bad idea and, if you can't commit fully and enthusiastically to a new product launch, the smarter path is to forget the whole thing rather than to try to do something halfway. And, just as you'd expect, the customers won't be left in the lurch for long because the slack was quickly taken up by others in the market rushing to fill the vacuum.
My favorite is the Power Cube, a new product offering by a company called MiPOW, which has developed an inexpensive and elegant wireless charging unit. And, MiPOW has trumped Apple by combining the charger with a nestable portable battery (also wireless) that fits easily into your pocket so you will never run out of power on the road.
One of the things that I found most appealing about Power Cube is how well-done and clean the packaging is and how Apple-like (albeit all in black rather than white) the whole internal kit seemed to be. Just another semi-compliment and semi-threat to the folks in Cupertino. Slick design alone offers less and less protection these days and whatever edge it confers lasts for shorter and shorter periods of time -- even for Apple.
If you're as much about status, style and fashion as you are about trying to sell new technology, which Apple clearly is, you're going to have to compete in the same type of fast-cycle world that is speeding up the pace of the consumer electronics industry. Fast fashion is no longer just a gamechanger in the garment district. You can't sit back in any market in the face of growing demand and expect the rest of the world (or your customers) to wait for you. Consumers don't care about your constraints and they're only likely to be loyal until something better comes along.