iPhone X: How Apple makes sure your Christmas delivery isn't ruined

Apple is just as obsessed as you are about getting your phone on time

David Phelan
Sunday 24 December 2017 12:22
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The new iPhone X is seen in the Apple Store Union Square on November 3, 2017, in San Francisco, California
The new iPhone X is seen in the Apple Store Union Square on November 3, 2017, in San Francisco, California

When a new iPhone is announced, and at high-volume times of the year like Christmas, the Apple team in charge of logistics is hard at work. For deliveries to the UK, Europe, the Middle East and beyond, that team is based in Cork – I met them to hear every detail of the process.

The Irish Apple logistics team is over 100 strong and it has to source the products and then steer them from China to your door. This month, the team has been at full force. Preparations began months ago, with a level of analysis that is mind-boggling. Many individual postcodes have been studied in different countries to see which of the delivery organisations has the best record in delivering fast to those individual postcodes, so work can be assigned accordingly. Many, by the way, means literally millions of postcodes are analysed.

Apple works with around 15 different carriers, with every kind of transportation possible.

For major events, like the commitment to deliver the new iPhone X on November 3, planning begins some weeks in advance. Apple says its delivery management system works with military precision because of this forward planning, so the customers can be sure their delivery date will be met.

When you log on to order a product, the system not only knows the stock levels but also how long it will take to get to you – a remote rural postcode might take longer for that guaranteed delivery slot than a city centre – and give you a date accordingly.

It's the beginning of a process focused on the "Delivers On” day because of the importance of the delivery date.

As well as Apple's system, the carriers will all do another check to make sure they know how well they're doing in each particular postcode.

The day before the launch date, dozens of collections will be made by the carriers, each with security escort, getting ready for customer delivery. Carriers say that this level of scrutiny is unique to Apple, other customers don't require this obsessive level of detail.

Apple wouldn't reveal the details of its security systems but said there are preventative measures and proactive work to protect the product, and each carrier would have transportation security requirements.

On the day of release Apple's logistics teams start watching what's happening from 5.30AM. Hundreds of flights with product which will then go to thousands of delivery depots belonging to the carriers. From there they are carried in tens of thousands of vehicles with deliveries throughout the day, right up until midnight.

A fulfilment rate of even a whisker less than 100 per cent would not be considered a success. The mantra, I'm told, is to "delight the customer".

Things can go wrong, from planes going mechanical to fog preventing a landing at a particular airport, traffic snarl-ups and more.

Apple depends on its carriers rather than having its own delivery fleet because demand fluctuates during the year.

And if you think a product launch sounds busy, Christmas is another level of commitment, like "Delivers On" on speed. It's a multiplication of a launch day, I'm told, because customers are banking on Christmas delivery.

From December 4 onwards, there are well over a dozen meetings every day geared just to seeing how deliveries are going, assessing carrier performance.

I'm shown a chart showing thousands for flights, tens of thousands of delivery depot events and hundreds of thousands of delivery trucks in action.

Also on the chart is a reindeer, symbol of the last-gasp effort which this year will run until Saturday December 23 or even Sunday, Christmas Eve. The last-gasp is about ensuring customers receive their orders no matter what. It's built into the Christmas planning – if something's not going to get there in time because of a diverted flight, or snow say, Apple uses a series of same-day carriers with stock coming from nearby distribution centres or stores and if necessary they will call customers to tell them they could have an alternative, perhaps a different capacity memory or another colour and would that work for the customer?

The process, once it's described in detail is jaw-dropping. Of course, this is how it should be when it's your Christmas present that's being delivered, and it's certainly reassuring.

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