Tim Cook's game with Wall Street: Underpromise and overdeliver
Tim Cook runs the risk of burning us out with constant promises of new products. Ultimately, he has to underpromise and overdeliver
Tim Cook is playing a dangerous game with investors, analysts and tech journalists. We've been hearing for months about how Apple will launch products in new categories, but there's still no sign of these new products. Time will tell if Cook's gamble to tease us will pay off.
That was reiterated during Apple's Q2 2014 financial results call with analysts on Wednesday, when Cook doubled down but added that Apple's wasn't ready to reveal what it's been working on yet.
"...we currently feel comfortable in expanding the number of things we're working on," Cook told analysts. "We've been doing that in the background, and we're not ready yet to pull the string on the curtain."
Cook articulated Apple's philosophy on new product development, explaining that the company's focus isn't being first to market, but rather to be the best. And being the best takes time.
He's right, of course. The Macintosh wasn't the first personal computer — wasn't Apple's first computer, either — but it changed the way PCs worked. The iPod wasn't the first MP3 player to market, but it and the iTunes Store, changed the face of digital music forever. Likewise, the iPhone wasn't the first smartphone, and wasn't the first touch-based cell phone either, but it changed the way smartphones worked. And the iPad was more than a decade behind the first Windows-powered tablets, but utterly reshaped the business (and really invented the modern tablet market).
Apple has proven over and over again that it can disrupt markets it enters into by bringing forth innovative products that delight and amaze its customers.
The danger Cook runs into is that by constantly teasing us, he's setting us up potentially to be disappointed by whatever Apple introduces.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and so do most tech journalists and analysts. Apple's absence of concrete news hasn't stopped us ever from speculating about what they're working on. And sometimes we're on the money, but most of the time we're off — sometimes wildly off.
So Tim's balancing on a high wire here — he has to make sure to underpromise by offering absolutely no substantive details about what Apple's working on, with the expectation that Apple will ultimately overdeliver when whatever it's working on finally comes to fruition.
It's an unenviable position to be in, surely. I have to wonder why Cook bothered to say anything at all prior to the introduction of this new product to begin with, except perhaps to assuage analysts and investors who repeatedly make the claim that Apple isn't innovating fast enough.
At least this way, Cook can say that Apple is working on something, even if we don't know what it is.
I take it on face value that Apple isn't ready to talk about a new product yet because it isn't finished. What's more, right now we're in the historical trough of Apple's earnings cycle: Apple's third fiscal quarter, which runs from April to June, is usually the company's weakest. That has a lot to do with general consumer electronics and personal computer buying trends, and it's unlikely that any product, no matter how disruptive, would buck that trend.
So it makes sense for Apple to wait — not only until it's ready, but until the public is ready to buy whatever it's working on.
In the interim, we simply have to sit on our hands and not let our imaginations get carried too far away. And hope that when Tim is finally ready to pull that curtain, we'll once again be delighted and amazed at what's behind it.
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