Apple has canceled AirPower. That’s not an April Fool’s joke. It’s not a hoax. It’s not a typo. It’s not a glitch in the matrix. AirPower is well and truly dead.
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.
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.
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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