In a move that could easily have been mistaken for an early April Fool’s Day prank, Apple announced today that development of its AirPower wireless charging mat, which has been highly anticipated since being announced in September 2017, has been shelved.
While unprecedented and embarrassing for a company of Apple’s magnitude to fail to this degree, its large consumer base of early adopters stands to face the most ridicule. Many of Apple’s most passionate supporters (myself included) have stood behind and defended AirPower against scrutiny since it was unveiled. Today, that support and defense was rendered entirely misplaced.
What makes it tough for me, as an avid supporter of Apple for many years, are the following critical elements:
- Apple stayed stubbornly tight-lipped about the progress on AirPower for a year and a half before abruptly canceling it, despite regular public interest and speculation in its development.
- Apple released its updated AirPods and Wireless Charging Case (originally announced alongside AirPower in 2017) last week and included references to AirPower on the packaging, leading many to believe its release was imminent.
To put this into perspective, Apple allowed consumers to believe the product was still coming out for a whopping 563 days before pulling the plug. Not one update. Instead, they fueled consumer support (and purchasing decisions) by including references to AirPower in the iPhone XS packaging in late 2018 and, recently, including an unmistakable graphic of it on the bottom of the AirPods Wireless Charging Case packaging.
It’s understandable that a product could be canceled after encountering too many issues in the development process. Apple’s reasoning provided for the cancellation stated simply that AirPower didn’t achieve their “high standards.” However, lacking even the smallest amount of transparency when given countless opportunities over the past year and a half is unacceptable.
It’s a breach of consumer trust when you consider Apple often encourages us to be excited about, support, and even preorder products with little evidence of their feasibility. Given their tenure in the industry, we generally trust Apple to announce products and services they can realistically deliver and we don’t have much reason to assume our interest will be in vain.
From a company pitching the “it just works” mentality for so long, this is a rare case where something just doesn’t. Apple had to have known this day would come, but it’s clear their pride came before their relationship with consumers.
Hell hath no fury like an early adopter scorned
Early adopters play a critical role in helping companies get products and services off the ground. If enough of Apple’s most loyal early adopters begin to feel resentment or lose faith in the credibility of Apple’s announcements, they’ll start placing their interest elsewhere.
It may seem like Apple is an enormous company with a bottomless pit of cash, but they are not immune from the pitfalls of damaged consumer relationships. They can’t overlook the importance of how they make people feel. In the case of the AirPower mat, an exponentially greater level of transparency would have helped temper reactions and avoid the shock of an abrupt cancelation.
Apple has spent decades building trust and brand loyalty. How they recover from this unprecedented embarrassment could make or break their future as a key player in the tech industry. If failures like this become increasingly common, it will be too late and the early adopters will no longer be around to defend them.