Why is it so bloody difficult to have accessories ready to sell at launch?


Mobile electronics don’t exist in a bubble. Whether we’re talking about smartphones or tablets, our gadgets rely on a whole lot of contributions from the world around them in order to be as fully featured and useful as possible. We need carriers to provide mobile data (even if we don’t particularly care for our options), app stores to hook us up with software, and case-makers to help protect our gear.

It shouldn’t be surprising at all to see manufacturers getting in on some of this action themselves, offering all manner of accessories to augment our experiences and really make the company’s hardware stand out. Sure, the Nokia Lumia 1020 is an impressive piece of kit on its own, but slap on that camera grip, and not only does it feel more like a real camera, but you’ve got the battery capacity to shoot all day long. Even simple accessories like that can really help convey the feeling of manufacturer dedication to a product.

Don’t get me wrong: you can totally overdo things and end up giving people the impression that you were more focused on developing accessories than the base product, but keeping things within healthy reason, a good assortment of accessories can give a product launch a nice extra boost.

galaxy nexus dockAt least, that’s the way things should work, but there’s a nasty trend I keep seeing signs of which this industry just can’t seem to shake: smartphone and tablet manufacturers have a bad habit of not having accessories ready to sell at the same time the devices they work with launch.

Sure, third-party companies get a pass; while you might love to see that new OtterBox available the day your iPhone 5S arrives, no one’s going to fault a company like that – the products of which are necessarily reactionary – for lagging behind the one actually making the devices these accessories complement. But that’s not what I’ve been seeing. Instead, time after time it’s the phone or tablet’s manufacturer itself that just isn’t ready with the accessories on time.

The most recent example to remind me of this silliness was the Surface 2 – or rather, the Surface Pro 2. Microsoft messed up right out of the gate here, announcing the Surface Pro 2 dock during its September launch event, but making perfectly clear at the time that the accessory wouldn’t be available until 2014. Sure, some went up for sale a little early, but in fantastically small quantities, actually making the whole tease a little worse.

What gives, Microsoft? You clearly didn’t come up with this dock on a whim, drafting it up in early September, and throwing together a quick prototype for the Surface 2 launch. Considering there’s back-compatibility with the original Surface Pro, I’d wager that this dock has been in development for many, many months now. And it’s certainly not a more complicated product than the Surface tablets themselves – more than anything, all the extra space available should have made engineering and manufacture a breeze.

So why can’t you have stuff like that ready to go, right from your retail launch date?

nexus-7-dock-b-and-hOr look at all the delays we see with official Nexus-series accessories. The Galaxy Nexus launched in October 2011, and its accessories didn’t go up for sale until the following spring. We saw the same routine play out again this year, with the Nexus 7 dock not arriving until early 2013.

More than actually missing the presence of any of these accessories myself, my problem with this lackadaisical attitude to their release is how it reflects on manufacturers’ commitments towards their products.

Sure, you want to get AwesumFoneX out on schedule, but when you’re so focused on hitting that date above all else, such that making sure that all this other stuff that needs to work AwesumFoneX gets put on the back burner, how do you think that makes you look? When it’s the launch alone that matters, what does that mean for your support further down the road? Are you also going to view getting timely software updates out as something pretty much optional?

I say to you smartphone and tablet manufacturers: get your stuff together. If you’re planning to produce accessories for a device, have them ready to sell when I’m buying the gadget they work with. But don’t bring me promises of accessories that won’t be arriving for months and months, if at all. I’m not making a purchasing decision in four months; I’m making one now. When you’ve finally got everything worked out and know exactly when accessories will be arriving, sure, make a “hitting stores in X weeks” announcement. But if the best you can muster is “later,” keep those accessories to yourselves until they’re ready.

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About The Author
Stephen Schenck
Stephen has been writing about electronics since 2008, which only serves to frustrate him that he waited so long to combine his love of gadgets and his degree in writing. In his spare time, he collects console and arcade game hardware, is a motorcycle enthusiast, and enjoys trapping blue crabs. Stephen's first mobile device was a 624 MHz Dell Axim X30, which he's convinced is still a viable platform. Stephen longs for a market where phones are sold independently of service, and bandwidth is cheap and plentiful; he's not holding his breath. In the meantime, he devours smartphone news and tries to sort out the juicy bits Read more about Stephen Schenck!