Do Wall Street Journal Reporters Read The Wall Street Journal?

Aaron Tilley and Yang Jie, reporting last week for The Wall Street Journal, “Apple Is Breaking Its Own Rules With a New Headset” (News+ link):

Apple’s launch plans break many of its traditions and rules about new products that have become the industry gold standard. Unlike other Apple products, the device is debuting in a still-experimental mode. Apple predicts slower adoption for the headset compared with the Apple Watch or the iPhone, both of which quickly became consumer must-haves. Taking seven years in development before hitting the market, it will be one of the most complex consumer products any company has ever sold.

That’s a lot to unpack in one paragraph. Here goes:

I’d argue Apple has never introduced two new products the same way. Every new product introduction has been different. I honestly don’t know any more about the headset than the rumor mill consensus but I guarantee it isn’t in an “experimental mode”. Neither Apple Watch nor iPhone “quickly became consumer must-haves”. Here’s a report from Daisuke Wakabayashi in ... checks notes ... The Wall Street Fucking Journal itself in April 2016, a year after Apple Watch shipped, that says, in the opening paragraph, “Yet the smartwatch is dogged by a perception that seems premature given the history of Apple’s most popular devices: disappointment.” (The next paragraph claimed that “sales of iPhones are slowing”.)1

The pattern for Apple’s entries into new product categories generally goes like this:

  • Apple releases the first version. It’s expensive. It’s missing a few obvious features. It has a few obvious limitations. But it’s a breakthrough.
  • Early adopters wait in line outside Apple Stores overnight to buy it. Online sales are backordered by weeks or even months soon after they launch.
  • That early fervor aside, it’s an early adopter product, and sales are less than those of Apple’s established products.
  • After a few months or maybe a year, the immediate-gratification-obsessed business press runs articles declaring the product a dud.
  • Apple releases a second-gen version that’s better. Sales go up. Word continues to spread.
  • With each successive year, Apple releases improved models. Those obvious missing features are added. The obvious limitations are removed. Older models stay on sale at lower price points. It becomes a hit product.
  • Years later, when Apple is poised to release another altogether new product, the last one — the one written off as a dud after its first year — is held up as a product that was universally hailed as a sensation and smash hit from day one.

A few paragraphs later in Aaron Tilley and Yang Jie’s report:

For Apple’s first new major product in a decade — the Apple Watch was announced in 2014 — Chief Executive Tim Cook has a lot on the line as the device attempts to dominate the virtual world where people spend time for work or leisure, called the metaverse, which hasn’t yet reached mass adoption or understanding.

There is growing skepticism among some investors and potential future partners that consumers will spend money and time on the metaverse. They note some early adopters are disillusioned with the technology.

It’s a sidenote perhaps, but I’d argue that AirPods are a major new product — and that AirPods Pro are the first true mass-market augmented reality devices. The fact that they’re audio-only, and not visual, blinds people (sorry) to the fact that they’re remarkable AR products. Apple doesn’t break out unit sales, but estimates suggest that if AirPods — just AirPods — were a standalone company, it would have more revenue than Nvidia, Adobe, or Uber, and might soon catch up to Netflix. But that’s a sidenote.

The bigger issue is that back in October, in an on-stage interview, Greg Joswiak was asked to complete the sentence “The metaverse is...”, and his answer was, “...a word I’ll never use.” The fact that people don’t use or even know what the hell the metaverse means is irrelevant to Apple’s headset. I don’t know how much more clear Joz could have been without revealing Apple’s headset then and there — Apple’s not making something that’s just like what other companies already have on the market. That on-stage interview was with ... checks notes ... Joanna Stern at The Wall Street Journal Tech Live conference. It’s enough to make you think Wall Street Journal reporters don’t read The Wall Street Journal.

That no XR headset introduced so far has made much of a dent in the universe isn’t a sign that Apple’s effort is ill-fated. It’s a sign that Apple has an opportunity. In a sense, Apple does have one tradition when entering a new product category: they endeavor to make the first one good enough to be criticized.

  1. Here’s a paragraph for the Annals of Prognostication from that same 2016 Wakabayashi report for the Journal:

    And yet, there are detractors such as Fred Wilson, co-founder of venture-capital firm Union Square Ventures, in December declared the Watch a “flop.” Mr. Wilson, who owns shares of Fitbit through a fund, had earlier predicted the Watch wouldn’t be a “home run” like the iPad, iPhone and iPod, saying many people wouldn’t want to wear a computer on their wrist.

    Fred Wilson, the next best thing to Jim Cramer↩︎