Tim Cook: Why Apple ships some products before their time

“[A product] is like a train—the train leaves the station, and if you have a great idea after that, it’s going on the next train.”

For the issue that named Apple the “world’s most innovative company,” Fast Company’s Bob Safian quizzed CEO Tim Cook about the HomePod’s untimely release:

Fast Company: Sometimes Apple takes the lead, introducing unique features—Face ID, for instance. Other times you’re okay to follow, as long as you deliver what you feel is better, like HomePod, which is not the first home speaker. How do you decide when it’s okay to follow?

Tim Cook: I wouldn’t say “follow.” I wouldn’t use that word because that implies we waited for somebody to see what they were doing. That’s actually not what’s happening. What’s happening if you look under the sheets, which we probably don’t let people do, is that we start projects years before they come out. You could take every one of our products—Pod, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch—they weren’t the first, but they were the first modern one, right?

In each case, if you look at when we started, I would guess that we started much before other people did, but we took our time to get it right. Because we don’t believe in using our customers as a laboratory. What we have that I think is unique is patience. We have patience to wait until something is great before we ship it.

FC: In the magazine business, the issue doesn’t ship when we’re done with it, it ships when we have to print it. Sometimes that enforced discipline is valuable in pushing people. On the one hand, you’re patient, but on the other, you have to set deadlines, to create a forcing function somehow.

TC: You have to have a forcing function. For us, on the product side, we have to come up with our silicon requirements three, four-plus years in advance. So we’ve got things that we’re working on now that are way out in the 2020s.

You also want to have the flexibility to go right up until the last minute so that you are continuing to explore and use the product and discover more things that you want to do. There has to be a balance. If we try to allow that kind of flexibility in the silicon piece, we’d never ship a product.

[A product] is like a train—the train leaves the station, and if you have a great idea after that, it’s going on the next train. You’re not going to call this one back to the station.

We have events, other things, that give us goals, shipping by a certain time. But ultimately the question is, Is the product great? Is it ready? And if it’s not, we delay.

My question: In the case of the HomePod—great little speaker, not-so-great digital assistant—would the product be greater if Apple had been a little more patient?


  1. Gianfranco Pedron said:
    “… would the product be greater if Apple had been a little more patient?”

    Should Microsoft have waited for XP to be ready before releasing Windows?

    February 25, 2018
    • David Drinkwater said:
      I wonder what the ramifications of my sarcastic/rhetorical answer of “yes” would have been.

      February 25, 2018
  2. David Drinkwater said:
    “… would the product be greater if Apple had been a little more patient?”

    Same question as above, different answer:

    Siri is not written in silicon. Silicon is a part of Siri, but most if Siri is in software. I think the Shazam acquisition (sound/voice recognition) will help this.

    Thus far, playing with my HomerPod for a week, I think Siri *hears* me fine, but the doesn’t understand very well. For example: “Turn off front hall and back hall lights” didn’t work (too many concepts at once). “Turn on front hall lights” works in the morning beautifully. “Lights out” also works. I haven’t yet tried “Turn off front hall lights and turn off back hall lights.” “Lights out” should logically also “turn off mid hall lights”. And I’ve barely scratched the surface with home automation.

    February 25, 2018
  3. Robert Paul Leitao said:
    PED: Addressing specifically your question about the HomePod, the release date had already been pushed back. I had planned to pre-order two HomePods but stereo functionality has yet to be added. I opted to initially purchase one HomePod and will purchase a second one when that functionality becomes available.

    For our uses (primarily as a home speaker system), I consider it to be an excellent product and a near-perfect peripheral for Apple Music subscribers. It’s also likely to be a multi-billion dollar product line in its first 12 months of release.

    Obviously stereo functionality (auto-pairing for stereo sound) is taking longer to implement than originally planned. In the meantime, we are enjoying the high-quality sound the HomePod produces and it has absolutely enhanced our Apple Music listening experience.

    I had little interest in the HomePod as a digital assistant but it has made Siri queries unrelated to music requests easier and more convenient.

    I see little reason for Apple to have further delayed the release of the HomePod. I don’t see the HomePod as a “competitor” to any other product currently in the marketplace. I consider it an attractively priced and high-quality Apple Music accessory and HomeKit component.

    February 25, 2018
  4. Fred Stein said:
    Apple Siri acquired in 2010 and mismanaged it. Now under Craig, Siri has a chance. This will take time. Meanwhile, HomePod’s superior acoustics can bolster Apple music and possible video franchises and user experiences. Since Siri is mainly software, Apple can improve the HomePods that people buy today.

    February 25, 2018
    • Robert Paul Leitao said:

      I agree. Apple can enhance the HomePod’s functionality through software and services. I purchased the HomePod as a high quality Apple Music accessory and it is definitely performing to expectations.

      February 25, 2018
  5. John Butt said:
    I have an older Bose system, where the poor quality control (CD player and radio) failed long ago, so I transferred the speaker feeds to an airport and we have used our iPhones as drivers, especially for Apple Music. This setup preceded Music, and for a long time we used an App for radio over Airport – our TV does that now.
    We have been in the market, for an upgrade to our setup for a long time, there has not been an integrated lounge quality solution available so it sits and waits.
    I am awaiting confirmation that the Pod is what I thought it may be – the answer to our needs, and it looks like with stereo application it very well could be what we want, based on Robert’s comments above. I remain concerned that it does not integrate fully with the iPhone – yet, removing the ability to use apps or own music.

    February 25, 2018

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