The rollout of the Apple Watch has not been a particularly smooth one. Clearly millions of people were interested in buying the Apple Watch, but many of the ones that pre-ordered the watch did not get it on launch day. This angered some people, and now we're finally getting some details on what might have slowed down shipping of the Apple Watch.
It turns out that the Taptic Engine being produced by one Apple Watch manufacturer has some defects. This caused Apple to hold back some of the Apple Watches that had already been produced, and thus the company could not ship enough Apple Watches to its customers.
Dawn Chmielewski reports for Recode:
The part, known as the Taptic Engine, produces a subtle tap on the wrist to alert the wearer of an incoming message or other notification. Quality assurance testing revealed that some of these components supplied by AAC Technologies Holdings in Shenzhen, China, would break over time, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Apple has shifted production to a second supplier, Japan’s Nidec, which didn’t experience this problem, according to the Journal.
“I believe no faulty Apple Watches were shipped to consumers,” said Patrick Moorhead, founder of Moor Insights & Strategy. “I don’t think this is damaging at all.”
The defect with the Taptic Engine, which uses a motor that slides a small rod back and forth to create a vibration, could explain the product’s initial supply constraints.
Did Apple ship watches with broken Taptic Engines?
The guy quoted in the Recode report seems to think that Apple did not ship any watches with the broken Taptic Engines. But John Gruber at Daring Fireball would beg to differ with him:
Recall that my first review unit had a bum Taptic Engine — it worked when I first started using it, but struck me as weak. By the end of the first day it wasn’t working at all, and Apple supplied me with a second watch the next day.
I’ve also heard from at least one DF reader whose Apple Watch Sport had a non-functioning Taptic Engine (he got it replaced at his local Apple Store). So some of these have made it out of the factories and into the wild. But it certainly doesn’t seem to be a rampant problem in the field.
Despite what the Recode report said, my money is on Gruber about Apple possibly shipping defective watches. He actually had one for review and testing purposes, and it's extremely doubtful that he would make such a claim lightly or without the personal experience to back it up.
If Apple has shipped some defective watches, then hopefully it will be a very small number of them. My experience with Apple has been quite good when it comes to having hardware replaced. I had an old 24-inch iMac that was a lemon, and Apple ended up giving me a brand new 27-inch iMac (back when they were first released). So I don't doubt that the company will take care of any Apple Watch customers who got defective watches.
Stand by for the negative Apple Watch media onslaught!
One of the unfortunate consequences of the problems with the Taptic Engine is that it's going to result in a media onslaught of negative stories about the Apple Watch, even if it's just a few bad ones that got shipped or none at all.
The media tends to pounce on any misstep by Apple like rabid dogs, and I don't think that this will be an exception. Be prepared for a slew of stories about how the Apple Watch is a failure, or how Apple has failed in its first product launch without Steve Jobs, etc., etc. It's going to be a circus as the windbags in the media blather on about the "Taptic Engine crisis."
Think I'm kidding? Check out the Drudge Report page from early Wednesday evening:
And if Drudge is running it, you can bet that most tech sites and even the general media will be pontificating and blathering on about how "the Apple Watch is defective!" and that sort of thing. It's pretty much par for the course whenever Apple has problems with a device, no matter the significance of the issue.
By the way, you might notice that I used the word "tapticgate" in the headline of this post. I could not resist doing so since you just know that that word is going to make its way into general usage online once more people and the rest of the media become aware of the Taptic Engine problems in some of the Apple Watches.
Remember "antennagate?" That was when the iPhone 4 had a reception problem, and the media ran with that story big time. And how about the iPhone 6 Plus bending controversy that was labeled "bendgate" by many folks online and in the media (I have an iPhone 6 Plus and it's never bent...so much for bendgate!). So it's only appropriate that the new one be dubbed "tapticgate."
Hey, nothing wrong with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek headline, right?
Reddit reactions to news of tapticgate
I took a peek at Reddit to see what some Apple fans and customers were saying about the Taptic Engine problems. Here's a smattering of comments from the Apple subreddit:
Centenary: "If some faulty Taptic Engines were shipped, I wonder if that might explain why some people feel that the vibrations are too weak while others can feel the vibrations while playing racquetball.
If you feel that the Taptic Engine is too weak, seems like it might be worth comparing your watch with other watches to make sure that your watch is okay."
WinterCharm: "Well, I'd say that's a pretty good reason. I'd rather they take their time and deliver functioning watches to everyone. If they had shipped out defective models, imagine the ruckus."
Dafones: "...damn you, AAC. You're the reason I get my 12:09 a.m. watch on May 21. If I'm lucky."
C3L3STIALB3ING: "I went from May 4th to June!"
CurryboiiNZ: "Hey, its good that Apple caught the issue earlier on rather than having a massive recall once watches are out in the wild."
I understand the frustration of Apple Watch customers
As someone who is waiting patiently for a 42mm Space Gray Apple Watch, I can totally understand the frustration being felt by those who pre-ordered the watch, or ordered it later on. Mine isn't scheduled to ship until June, and - after this report about Taptic Engine problems - I don't see that changing anytime soon.
I think we are all going to have to sit tight and be patient while Apple works out the manufacturing bugs of the Apple Watch. It is a very new technology after all, so there were bound to be unforeseen headaches and problems with building it. Hopefully the second Taptic Engine supplier can rev up and crank out more watches without the problem.
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