WSJ Reports Apple Intent on Speeding Up Product Development; Hints from CEO Tim Cook

Apple CEO Tim CookAn article today in the Wall Street Journal says that Apple is hiring hundreds of engineers and managers in China and Taiwan with the goal of speeding up product development and launching a wider range of products more frequently. This is just what Apple fanboys want to hear. We love Apple's products, and the biggest complaint is that there ain't enough of 'em. We want more gadgets, and we want them now. And that pretty much sums up the attitude of investors. If this is true, it certainly signals a shift for Apple, which has always taken its sweet time, and has always kept it's product line focused. Apple is expected to launch two new phones this fall, a new Apple TV, and possibly an iWatch. Plus, we'll likely see updated versions of the iPad Air and iPad mini. So already Apple is juggling a wider range of products than in the past.

The big question, as always, is what we'll see and when. An interesting article on the Seeking Alpha website parses Apple CEO Tim Cook's behavior at last week's shareholder meeting and says that his unusual manner suggests that he's confident he has a winning hand that will please investors, meaning new products in the pipeline. And when will we see them? International Business Times says don't expect anything until this fall.

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As usual, Cook held his cards close to his chest at last week's meeting. He told shareholders that Apple had purchased 23 companies over the past 16 months, but didn't name them. AppleInsider says that's because it would give clues to what Apple is working on. So why is Apple so secretive? AppleInsider explains that it's not only because the secrecy helps generate speculation and excitement about forthcoming rumored products (which is a great marketing ploy), but also Apple doesn't want competitors to know what they're up to. In addition, if people know six months in advance exactly what's coming, they'll be less likely to purchase the products that are currently available. And sometimes features in prototypes or trial versions of software end up not being in the final product, so Apple maintains secrecy so as not to disappoint.

So anyway, that's the game. People want more stuff from Apple, but Apple isn't saying what or when. And rumors flood the void. A fascinating article on DigiTimes, summarized on CNET, explains the source of many of the rumors. When Apple manufactures a product, they buy the parts of suppliers in Asia. So those suppliers have a sense of what's in the works. As early as six to nine months before the launch of a product, they start to get a sense of what Apple is working on because of Apple's orders from them. Usually at that stage Apple is developing various prototypes and trying test runs to see what they think people will like and how efficiently it can be manufactured. That naturally leads to lots of conflicting rumors. 

But by about one to two months out, suppliers begin shipping components in mass to Apple's manufacturers, so then it's pretty clear what's coming. DigiTimes closely tracks shipments from suppliers, which is why they're likely the biggest source of rumors. And as the product launch gets close, they usually have pretty accurate information.

So it looks like anything new is months away. I certainly look forward to what Apple has in store.

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Jim Karpen holds a Ph.D. in literature and writing, and has a love of gizmos. His doctoral dissertation focused on the revolutionary consequences of digital technologies and anticipated some of the developments taking place in the industry today. Jim has been writing about the Internet and technology since 1994 and has been using Apple's visionary products for decades.