Product Launches 2.0

Apple got it in the neck these last few days for launching enhanced versions of the iPhone and iPod Touch. I say enhanced: they hadded memory, 8gb for the iPhone and 32gb for the Touch. I mean it’s disgraceful really, isn’t it? They launch a phone 7 months ago and then go and upgrade it with no prior notice. They even had a whole show in which they could have mentioned it just 18 days ago when MacWorld was in full flow. But instead, they deliberately fooled people that there were no new announcements coming and then foisted a couple on an unsuspecting world a short while later. People, rise up and start a class action lawsuit. You know it’s the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, I propose a new Product Launch Process (PLP) to counter this disgraceful behaviour by suppliers. I’m almost moved to launch a petition on the Downing Street website – I feel sure it will get more votes than Jeremy Clarkson for Prime Minister (6,000 odd more and it will break the 50,000. 4 million iphones have been sold, or maybe not, so I’m onto a winner).

So, here’s the new process

1. We’ll define International Launch Day (ILD) as June 1st every year. On this day, all products must be announced and communicated to the world through every possible channel.

2. Anyone purchasing a product that is subsequently upgraded in the 364 days before ILD (i.e. a full one day after the last ILD) will be entitled to take ownership of the new product for only the price delta between the old one and the new one; if there is a fall in price, they shall be entitled to receive the difference as a cash settlement.

3. Products that are launched intra-year, i.e. those who break the ILD protocol and decide to launch between ILDs, must be sent to all registered owners of similar products bought at the last ILD, for a consideration in price. That is to say, if a 32gb iPhone comes out and you bought a 16gb at the last ILD, then you will be entitled to receive the new one for only the price delta. If the price has dropped, you will receive the new model and a cash settlement equivalent to the difference in price.

4. To make this simple, product vendors are encouraged to ensure that features are kept simple and discrete. Overly-complicated feature additions will make these comparisons difficult to meet. For instance, what if Apple had launched the iPod Touch on ILD 2006 and then the iPhone on ILD 2007? That would have instantly caused confusion: would purchasers of the Touch be entitled to a free replacement iPhone, once they returned their Touch? Those kind of issues would need lawyers to resolve so it is suggested that companies stick to the basics and refrain from introducing ground-breaking innovations, lest the cost of lawsuits be too great to bear.

5. In the event that a product vendor does need to introduce a ground-breakingly innovative product, they should endeavour to cripple it by ensuring that it does not have all the features that any normal, self-respecting customer would want – or, at least, to wait for an ILD when they do have all of those features in. A good example would be the MacBook Air. Apple should, plainly, have waited until they could shoe-horn the combo CD/DVD/Blu-Ray/HD-DVD drive into the case. Or, just released a MacBook DenseAir instead.

5.1 There may be rare cases when a product vendor wishes to introduce a genuinely ground-breakingly innovative product and, at the same time, does not wish to cripple it. At that time they should appoint a fully independent ombudsman (apply here) who will identify the features that contribute to making a price difference with previously released and similar models, in as much as “similar” can be defined and interpreted, and the ombudsman will set a price rebate that will be granted to all those who purchased models that were in any way “similar”, as defined by the ombudsman and those purchasers will be entitled to take on the new model having returned their old model.

6. If the product vendor feels that they need to maintain a more regular release schedule, perhaps for reasons of supply chain planning, stock list rundowns, market opportunity and so on, then they should announce 180 days before release what it is that they place to release on what will be called an Interim International Launch Day or I2LD. Following such a launch, rules 2 and 3 would, of course, continue to apply and product replacements/discounts/upgrades would be granted to those who had purchased previous models, unless they were groundbreaking innovations, in which case see 5.1.

All of this should make for a much simpler and more sensible model of technology procurement. No one will be caught by surprise by unexpected releases, companies will have plenty of time to plan for launches and ensure that there is appropriate stock and prices will be kept harmonious with the employment of Murphy’s Second Law which states, clearly, that “Any technology product that costs less than the last one you bought tells you that you should have waited” and Murphy’s Third Law which states that “If you bought a product the day before the new one came out, then you should have seen it coming.”

There will be those who will complain that this new process will stifle innovation. They’ll be wrong of course – what this will bring is price stability and predictability over the long term. Suppliers will love it, customers will love it.

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