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Why Apple's AirPower had to die

Here's the statement Apple sent me about it on behalf senior Vice President of hardware engineering, Dan Riccio:

"After much effort, we've concluded AirPower will not achieve our high standards and we have cancelled the project. We apologize to those customers who were looking forward to this launch. We continue to believe that the future is wireless and are committed to push the wireless experience forward."

Now, I've already covered the brief history of AirPower from the product from announcement to everything that's happened up until late last year, so I'm not going to rehash all of that here and now.

But, there are so many questions, so many hot takes, so many rushed uploads and pubs, and so much misinformation and misunderstanding circulating out there, I felt like I had to try, at the very least, to help all of you who support this channel understand what happened and why. At least as much as it's possible for anyone outside the AirPower and executive teams at Apple to really do that. So… Let's just FAQ all of this.

Don't want to read? Hit play to watch the video version!

Why did Apple announce AirPower back in September of 2017 if it was never going to ship?

Apple typically shows up and ships. The keynote happens. An executive holds a shiny new product up and says it's available that day or will be up for pre-order that day or that week. It's what we expect. It's a big part of what makes Apple, Apple.

Sometimes, though, it takes longer. Sometimes, Apple announces early to get ahead of industry or regulatory leaks, like the original iPhone which was shown off in January of 2007 but only hit stores in June. Or Apple Watch, which was shown off in September of 2014 but only shipped in April of 2015.

Sometimes, Apple announces early to give developers extra time to get apps ready, like Intel Macs or the original iPad, or just to show their commitment to developers, like the 2013 Mac Pro or 2017 iMac Pro.

And, sometimes, just sometimes, Apple announces early to show their commitment not to a community but to a technology with a halo product meant to help push the industry forward, like when they deleted the headphone jack but introduced AirPods, or, yeah, when they added Qi-standard inductive charging to the iPhone and introduced AirPower.

It was meant to prove Apple wasn't just doing inductive charging as a me-too move or a gimmick but was serious about the future being wireless and was willing to put their resources where their marketing was. Using their control over everything from hardware to software to build something unprecedented, something quote unquote only Apple could build.

That no one else had done it before and that some thought it couldn't be done didn't matter much, at least not at the time. Apple had a team of engineers that thought it possible, Apple's executives bought into their vision, and so AirPower made it up onto the keynote stage.

And there can't be anyone there now that feels happy about that green light not being a big, flashing neon read, not anymore.

But hasn't pre-announcing bitten Apple in the ass before?

Absolutely. While the vast majority of Apple products ship on time and in a way that is beyond stupefying to anyone with even the smallest, most casual understanding of the logistical processes involved, pre-announcing is always a huge risk.

AirPower

AirPower (Image credit: Apple)

Sometimes there are delays, like the white iPhone 4 Steve Jobs announced in June of 2010 but, due to issues with the color, Apple only managed to ship in April of 2011.

AirPods were delayed by a couple of months. iPhone X shipped later than iPhone 8. HomePod took an extra half a year or so. iPhone XR shipped later than iPhone XS. Sometimes it's hardware. Sometimes it's software.

And while it's irksome for everyone, we are irked, it's a reality of doing product at massive scale, not just for Apple, but specifically for these purposes, for Apple.

Delays have always happened, delays will always happen, and as Apple makes more products, Apple risks more products experiencing more delays.

It's why, for many of the last few years, at the end of the year, when I make my list of the biggest problems facing Apple, shipping and scale are almost always among them.

This never would have happened under Steve Jobs, right?

No. Stop. That really is the worst cliche. Tons of stuff went wrong under Steve Jobs. I just listed a bunch and didn't even have to reach into the MobileMe, buttonless iPod, cracked cube, or Apple Maps box.

No person nor process is perfect, and if you aren't stumbling every once and a while on your race to the finish line, you aren't even trying.

So, here's the deal: Any time you see anyone invoke the "This would never have happened under Steve Jobs" trope, just politely suggest that, instead of disrespecting the man's memory or displaying a staggering ignorance of Apple, just stick to the facts.

There's no real argument worth winning that can't be won on those.

But if other companies could ship AirPower-like pads, why couldn't Apple?

At a glance, it might look like there are a bunch of other multi-device Qi charging pads on the market, with two or three zones for different phones, maybe even a stand for Apple Watch. So, what stopped Apple from making something similar? In a word: Apple.

Apple could have pushed out a simple three zone charger, two standard Qi, one Apple Watch, and been done with it. But, Apple had far bigger ambitions than "just a pad with two phone coils and watch magnet".

Instead of three sweet spots that you had to find, and different charging areas for phones and watch, the entire AirPower pad was meant to be one, giant, uniform charging area that you could just drop any device, phone or watch on, anywhere, and they would just figure out the very different charging requirements all on their own.

Well, a phone, a set of AirPods in an inductive charging case, and a watch, or two phones and a watch at any rate.

It wasn't going to be Qi standard either. Because Qi couldn't do that back then. It was going to be beyond what the Qi standard could do, but Apple said they were going to work with Qi to make it part of a future standard so that everyone could benefit from whatever advancements Apple brought to the table.

But, to date, absolutely no one has been able to do what Apple set out to do with AirPower.

Yeah, not even Apple.

So, what went wrong?

Too many coils in too small a space, because physics. I covered this part back in November of last year so allow me to… introduce myself.

What about Apple's relationship with the supply chain, has that changed?

No… This was never about parts. Apple literally makes the parts that make the parts. This was about those parts, given the current limits of technology and, you know, physics, not being able to create the product Apple wanted to create.

But Apple just secured the Trademark and included AirPower in packaging and in iOS and…

Yeah. Throughout this long, tortured saga, Apple has kept on fighting to bring AirPower to market. Feeling like they were getting close to success, to release, planning for it, anticipating it, convincing themselves it was about to happen, maybe a few times over the last year but especially this year…

But, yeah, no. At some point, after delay after delay, failure to ship after failure to ship, investments and expectations and trademarks and packaging and even pride be damned, Apple had to make the call: Ship a product that just didn't work and risk further, long term damage to their brand, or kill it, even after everything that's gone in to it, and take the short-term hit now, and learn and do better next time.

Shipping is core to Apple's culture. Great artists ship is one of their oldest and most closely held mantras. But they're also a company that thinks in years, not months or days.

So, while I have no doubt this was a hard choice, one they knew would disappoint a lot of customers and lay waste to a lot of the work everyone inside the company had put into it so far, and would haunt them for years to come — while I have no doubt about that, I also think, ultimately, it was the right choice and the only one.

Because if AirPower had shipped and not even worked, it would have been infinitely worse for everyone.

Can Apple start over and make a new AirPower?

Apple could make a much simpler, less ambitious inductive charging pad, and even brand it as AirPower pretty much right away, certainly in the time it's taken them between announcing and canceling the original. That they didn't choose to do that, and that they outsourced their original, basic Qi chargers to Belkin and Mophie, probably means that kind of product isn't high up on Apple's todo list, though.

Could Apple make AirPower as originally conceived? Maybe one day, with more time, maybe years more time, when technology advances and all those coils can be managed effectively all at the same time.

So, what alternatives are there to AirPower?

While there's nothing on the market that does what AirPower wanted to do, there are a few multi-device charging options out there that do something much simpler and much more realistic, and, hey, exist.

My colleague, Luke, has put together a great list of all the best AirPower alternatives, which has everything from Nomad to Malukasa, Eurpmask to OLEBR, so you can check out all the options.

So... RIP AirPower?

So, yeah. RIP AirPower. Not even September 2017 to March 2019. It never shipped. Not one unit, not for one minute. It just didn't work and so Apple knew it had to die.

And that's sobering. Not in a callous sense, because so many people spent so much time expecting it and so many more so much more working on it. But, in a way that reminds everyone no amount of money or history can guarantee future success.

And that's the kind of realization that should have everyone figuring out just what exactly went wrong with AirPower, procedurally, operationally, and organizationally, and ensuring it can't ever go wrong in that same way again.

That's how AirPower will end: Not in thermal meltdown or darkness, but as a cautionary case study at Apple University, brought out any time anyone even thinks of overpromising and underdelivering again.

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Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

37 Comments
  • "But, there are so many questions, so many hot takes, so many rushed uploads and pubs, and so much misinformation and misunderstanding circulating out there, I felt like I had to try, at the very least, to help all of you who support this channel understand what happened and why." Put your money where your mouth is. Who was passing around that misinformation? Who is it that you think you need to correct or rectify the irrepuable damage they have done to Apple?
  • Why don't you just, you know, Google it? There's plenty of misinformation being spread, it doesn't matter who is spreading it, just that it is being spread.
  • If you're going to make straw man arguments that's fine, if you're going to act like you are 'educating' people then you need to name people. Thats on him, not me to google it to find out if he's lying or not. He's full of FUD, there wasn't misinformation running around about why AirPower failed. The criticism came from why they announced it.
  • Again like I said, if you look around you'll see there's plenty of misinformation that was and is being spread. I agree that Rene should've linked to some of it though.
  • Wow, never a more slobbering defense of an Apple mess-up. Expect more Apple mess-ups in the coming furture under Cook. And Ritchie making excuses for them.
  • It's amazing isn't it? And for the record, Apple Maps was released under Tim Cook. Blaming that one on Steve Jobs just shows how far Rene was stretching to make excuses.
  • Apple Maps was released under Tim Cook, but started to be developed when Steve Jobs was in charge. Steve was primarily in charge of Apple Maps, and Apple Maps was practically considered ready when Tim Cook became in charge, so really you can blame that on one Steve, unless you expected Tim Cook to stop a project at the very last minute when Steve would've kept it going.
  • Perhaps but Steve would have accepted responsibility for the debacle unlike Tim "I Don't Like Confrontation" Cook who took the opportunity to foist the blame on to a potential rival, Scott Forstal, and throw him under the bus
  • And the fact that Steve Jobs learned a valuable lesson from MobileMe, I'm convinced he would not have released it.
  • Steve released the iPhone 4 with a clear antenna issue when holding in the left hand, he really shouldn't have released that, but he did.
  • I don't think Steve would've accepted responsibility, considering he was the one who told people that they were holding their iPhone 4's wrong.
  • Tim Cook was responsible for what got shipped and what didn't, period. You're almost as much of an excuse maker as Rene. Starting to think Rene has a dupe account.
  • Hardly, it had already been signed off by that time, or practically at that phase. I don't think you understand how things in a big company work, once something is so close to release, there are already many decisions which have been made which rely on that product being released, and halting it would cause a lot of headache. Cancelling AirPower would've caused some headache, however Apple have been having problems with it for a while, so they were much more prepared for cancelling this product. It's also a product which isn't as interconnected into the ecosystem as others like Apple Maps.
  • Rene, You make valid points! But the products you point to as failures are more of the market not buying them, but shipped! That just is not the case here. A better example would be the on again, off again 'Project Titan' Apple still hasn't acknowledged a finished product like AirPower, so no foul here on Titan unlike AirPower. This was a tough nut to crack from the get go! While I can understand Apple wanting to plant a flagpole, it shouldn't have defined the product or even shown a product rendering. Just stating we are working on Qi devices should have been all they should have said! Now the physics just got in the way in what they wanted - A flat plate with no defined areas. Just playing with magnets should have made them realize the coils couldn't be mounted that close or overlaid without interfering with each other thus canceling the inductive fields and creating heat. They over reached and someone with deeper understanding of the physics should have stood up telling Tim to cool it.
  • "They over reached and someone with deeper understanding of the physics should have stood up telling Tim to cool it." I wonder if thats being done now. Maybe they were and they thought if they kept pushing back to get it done they would finally figure it out. I don't know, the problem is Apple has turned into a company that wants to claim they are all in on things and announce stuff before they even know it can be done. The last keynote was another example of that. Unfinished, look at me type of stuff, with very little substance.
  • Rene, honestly this was an embarrassing read. There are no excuses here for Apple, period. They could have and should have cancelled this project a long time ago. Do you find it coincidental that they cancelled AirPower after the released the new wireless AirPods 1.00001? I know this site is built on Apple but you don't have to kiss their *** and make excuses for them. Phil took the stage two years ago and said "No one can do this, but we figured it out." He was shooting off at the mouth and this SHOULD haunt them for years to come.
  • "Here's the statement Apple sent me about it on behalf senior Vice President of hardware engineering, Dan Riccio" You and everyone else. Stop trying to sound special. Just because you get to look into the windows sometimes, doesn't mean you're part of the team. Apple doesn't need you to fall on their sword here. They succinctly explained why they canceled the product. Done. Full stop. Period. Fin. They.Don't.Need.You. Their PR team is probably rolling their eyes right now. Now, how do I get all this slobber off of me!?
  • He was sent it beforehand, and he also wasn't trying to sound special, that just makes you sound jealous. But then again you're Just_Some_Nobody.
  • It’s the same EXACT statement everyone else got. Good grief. Are you him in disguise?
  • But he still got it sent to him directly, what the **** does it even matter anyway? All he's doing is mentioning that Apple contacted him.
  • I’ve got some sympathy for the criticism. Seems to me, judging from the constant stream of Twitter progress reports Rene sprays that Rene has become a little too self-obsessed, a little too convinced the world is waiting mouth agape for the next video. That people actually care if he’s going to be a few hours late. We aren’t and we don’t. There’s no doubting he’s one of the more perceptive commentators, and most probably the hardest working. But chill out man! None of this is life-changing... it’s just technology.
  • Worse, It was *just* a charging pad. And it was probably going to cost stupid amounts of money.
  • All Apple products cost stupid amounts of money, so that's to be expected. It was just a charging pad, and in terms of Apple products it's not a very important one, although this will still have let a lot of people down
  • It's *how* he said it. Reread what I quoted. And further, this whole video/article is very condescending to you followers of RR. He's basically saying, "here's what Apple said. You can't understand that, I can, so let me explain." WTSF??? How can you take anyone like that seriously!?
  • Maybe if Apple concentrated more on wireless charging instead of building cars we might have a great pad by now. A lot of people are ******, including myself, we purchased wireless AirPods just for this reason.
  • Wait til they announce the wireless charing pad that you mount into your garage or driveway to charge your Apple Titan car ;). Coming in 2022!
  • You purchased AirPods just for the way they get charged? Are you serious? How about for the way they sound? Or integrate with your iPhone and Mac?
  • I think he meant he purchased the wireless option of AirPods because of the promise of AirPower.
  • Great article from Apple PR.
    If all Apple customers were as forgiving (gullible?) as you, it would be a far inferior company. You should be standing up and holding their feet to the fire. But alas it is not to be.
    He doesn't want to get shut out of Apple events, which is journalistically, a travesty.
  • Guys, nobody forced you to read that article, or any of René's for that matter. Don't you have anything more useful to do with your time? I you are taking any pleasure in all this spite then there are many more things wrong with you than with René.
  • I agree, the irony is that you get the same people criticising his articles, yet they still come back every time to read through his new ones and make the same comments. You'd think if they really hated his articles they would just leave or ignore them… 🤔
  • then who would make him accountable for his biased Apple PR content? sure as heck wouldn't be the yes-men koolaid fanboys such as yourself.
  • What are you achieving by making him "accountable"? You're still reading his articles, generating clicks and ad-revenue. And even if you're not generating ad-revenue because you have adblock, the clicks you're generating and comments you're writing are going to make his articles appear more in search results. If you really want him to stop writing articles, then don't read them, don't comment on them. If there's no interest on his articles then they won't be seen and he won't make articles like that.
  • I have no agenda here other than I choose to give my feedback on the writer's biased and low quality content and his koolaid fanboy army however I see fit. I don't care if he stops writing or not and I don't care if he gets ad-revenue or not. If you don't like the way I give my feedback....tough luck really. In fact I'm sure deep down he loves the azz-ripping he gets from me since the articles that I don't comment on barely get more than 5 comments in total.
  • But you keep reading his "low quality" content 😂. I guess you enjoy reading articles that you don't enjoy…
  • what i enjoy is giving my feedback on these low quality articles ;)...alot of times i don't even have to read the article...title is enough to tell me this is would be another fanboy article
  • You mean you? Ok, that was a good one.
    If you want others to listen you may want to start by not insulting them. As you can see, your "public service" is not required, many people can read these articles and have their own critical thoughts that do not involve demeaning the writer. Man, it's a discussion, not a fight.