Apple Watch Production Slowed by Defective Taptic Engine

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apple watch stainless steel closeup

Screenshot from Apple Watch video series on apple.com

The Wall Street Journal reported that a key component of the Apple Watch made by one of two suppliers was found to be defective, prompting Apple, Inc. to limit the availability of the highly anticipated new product, according to people familiar with the matter.

Why Manufacturers Need to Ditch Purchase Price Variance

The part is the watch’s “taptic engine,” designed by Apple to produce the sensation of being tapped on the wrist. After mass production began in February, reliability tests revealed that some taptic engines supplied by AAC Technologies Holdings Inc., of Shenzhen, China, started to break down over time, the people familiar with the matter told the WSJ.

No Recall

Apple does not plan a recall, as there is no indication that any defective watches shipped to customers. (MetalMiner could not reach Apple for comment by phone or email this morning.)

Taptic engines are produced by a second supplier, Japan’s Nidec Corp., and they didn’t experience the same problem, the sources said. Apple has moved nearly all of its production of the component to Nidec, according to the WSJ, but it’s not known how this will affect production.

If the taptic engines are all serialized – so long as the sub-components are also traceable by lot at least, it should be easier for Apple and AAC Technologies to figure out what went wrong​ and fix the problem. Thomas Kase, our sister site Spend Matters’ vice president of research, shared his thoughts on the news, calling the dilemma “cultural issues at work.”

  • Apple clearly doesn’t know how to work strategically with its suppliers. It should learn from Toyota here – it needs to be deeply embedded on both sides. Toyota staff will be practically 24/7 at critical suppliers, and key suppliers go further with rollup bedding in place at Toyota’s plants during the “line-up” phase, unless things are unusually smooth, of course (yeah, right).
  • Meanwhile, in reality (at the supplier), any complex (especially new) technology will not perform to a timeline, no matter the bodies thrown at it – especially not if software is involved – similar looking bugs can take days to fix, or months! You can scream and shout, but software issues are notoriously unpredictable to resolve – throw in new hardware, add lots of innovation requirement (with final versions coming in late, or “just in time”), and a marketing team that screams for more features, and it starts to look like rolling the dice in Vegas.
  • Insufficient testing – not many quality assurance cycles at the end of the Apple Watch design to engineering to production tunnel. Someone is going to make an “executive decision” and say “that’s good enough” and maybe “our potential fail rate is about 10%, which equals $30 million in RMA claims over the first 3 months.

Taptic

Apple coined the word “taptic” as a play on “haptic,” a technology that delivers tactile feedback. The taptic engine is one of the key technologies that Apple created for the Watch. The taps are designed to be less intrusive than ringing, buzzing or other ways to get a user’s attention.

Apple began taking online orders for the new watch, its first new product category since the iPad, in nine countries last week.

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