In almost every case, the conventional wisdom is that Apple follows but does not lead. The iPad happened long after the first Windows tablets flopped and the iPad Mini is a reaction to the Kindle HD and the Nexus 7. My old Archos Jukebox was better than an iPod any day of the week – until it wasn’t – and ultralight notebooks had been around for years before the Air. But then there are the odd little things that Apple does ahead of everyone else or, more correctly, in spite of everyone else.
While I will not go so far as to say that you can take any meaningful lessons from this tactic – copy, embrace, extend? Try new stuff and fail? – I think it’s an interesting way of doing business and it would behoove Google and Microsoft to rethink launches in the Apple mold.
Consider, for example, Fusion Drive. When we first encountered it the general consensus was that Apple was simply using hybrid drives that have been around for years as a basis to speed up read/write speeds. Now, however, we learn that the system is much simpler. Basically, a Fusion Drive – we would say Fusion Volume – is really made of two drives that appear as physical drives to the system. Using a little behind-the-scenes OS magic, the SSD drive becomes a sort of front office while the hard drive becomes a warehouse. Important files are run from the SSD and the OS automatically assesses which files are most frequently run and moves them to the faster SSD. Writes are also dropped into SSD until they’re ready to be committed to the hard drive. Your web browser and, say, iTunes library will be run from the SSD forever but once you dump iPhoto for Aperture the more “popular” program gets star treatment on the faster drive.
The important thing about this is that no one knew it was coming. Sure, if you dug enough through the developer side of things you’d find an inkling of it but it just appeared in the presentation. It seems to me to exist as a hack around Core Storage and less a finished product. Someone figured out how to do implement this in the simplest, most potentially stable way possible and it looked like a good time to launch it into production. Rather than worry about potential solutions using off the shelf hardware, they essentially cobbled together two drives and called it a breakthrough – which, in a way, it is.
How does this relate to launches in general? When Google prepares a new product, they “launch” it far too early. Google Glass, for example, won’t be on faces until probably late 2013 if not 2014. Windows 8 got a huge run up for two years and there was plenty of time for folks to poke holes in it. Many CE manufacturers “launch” at CES and then ship later that year, secure in the knowledge that today’s gadget blogosphere will echo both the launch and the ship date to weary consumers.
Apple, on the other hand, just gets it out there. Real artists ship, they say, and say what you want about the artistry of Apple and its many me-too devices, but sometimes getting things out there is more important than promising the world.