During Apple's earnings call this week, CEO Tim Cook alluded to potential shortages of its next iPad Mini, which is set to go on sale next month.
"It's unclear whether we'll have enough for the quarter or not," Cook said. "You never really know the demand until after you start shipping." Analysts, of course, were clamoring for a more firm release date for the next-generation tablet, which is said to be in short supply. Cook's almost boilerplate CEO answer did little to assuage those concerns.
Customers may be disappointed this holiday season if they can't get their hands on Apple's sharper-screened miniaturized tablet. But if we pay attention to history, it's possible to make an educated guess as to how long shoppers will have to wait before they can simply walk right into a store and buy one. (Shipping estimates on Apple's Web site are usually good indications of how plentiful supplies are in retail stores.)
Of course, each product release has a different set of circumstances surrounding it. For instance, there were reportedly parts and labor shortages at Foxconn around the time of iPhone 4 and iPad 2 production, which were said to affect supply.
Still, Apple's product cycle has very nearly become a clock you can set your watch to. That makes it helpful to look at a few of the company's launches over the last three years to see where we'll end up with the Mini:
Release date: June 24, 2010
Time it took for shipping to stabilize: About three months. Almost two months after the phone was released, shipping estimates were still at three weeks. By September, wait times on Apple's Web site finally disappeared and the phone was listed as "in stock." And that's not even including the white iPhone debacle, which started shipping woefully late, in April 2011, just months before the iPhone 4S.
Release date: March 11, 2011
Time it took for shipping to stabilize: At least three months. A few days after launch, shipping estimates had swelled to four to five weeks. In an earnings call with analysts, Cook referred to the ship times as "the mother of all backlogs." On April 20, estimates became more manageable, falling to one to two weeks. Supplies became even more abundant in July 2011, when estimates dropped to three to five days.
Release date: October 14, 2011
Time it took for shipping to stabilize: About three months. This was, of course, the first major product release after Steve Jobs died, the day after the 4S was unveiled. Demand was high, but by mid-January, shipping times had fallen to three to five days.
Release date: November 2, 2012
Time it took for shipping to stabilize: About one and a half to two months. In December of that year, shipping times on Apple's online store had lightened from two weeks to one.
Release date: September 20, 2013
Time it took for shipping to stabilize: We're in the thick of it. But earlier this month, Apple changed the wait time on its Web site from the vague-sounding "October" to two to three weeks. That shipping period still remains.
New iPad Mini features super crisp and clear Retina Display
iPad Mini with Retina Display
Reports have said that there are likely supply issues affecting the tablet. For example, a source told Reuters that one reason for potential problems could be because of a delay in certifying panel producers. The release date for the device is still the cloudy "later in November." So if the wait time is anything like its predecessor, the first Mini, shipping may stabilize after the new year. Of course, it all depends on how early or late in November the product actually launches.
Of course, cashing in on the holiday buzz and moving units is, for all intents and purposes, a good thing. But there's also a sense of gamesmanship. Aside from dealing with external problems with manufacturers, shortages of any product creates an allure, and excites throngs of fans that want but can't have.
Either way, that means some users could end up without devices in time for Christmas.