Sources in the supply chain report that Apple has been obliged to cut production of its AirPods wireless earbuds, as demand fails to meet expectations.
The company planned to make 110 million units in 2021, writes Nikkei Asia, but has cut this back to between 75 and 85 million. That's a decrease of around a quarter, in a surprising setback for a historically successful product.
"The levels of inventory and in-store stocks of AirPods are currently high," an anonymous source reports, "and demand is not as strong as expected."
Under the watch of Tim Cook, who comes from a logistics background, Apple has been famously hot on eliminating supply-chain slack and reducing unnecessary inventory. This isn't the first product that has seen a sharp cut in production - the iPhone 12 mini failed to meet expectations too - but the AirPods' exceptional sales in previous years make this more surprising.
The wireless earbuds market itself is flourishing; Nikkei quotes a Counterpoint Research analyst who predicts it will grow by a third in 2021. But Apple is struggling to deal with increasing competition from the likes of Samsung in the premium market - our colleagues on Tech Advisor gave the Galaxy Buds+ a 4.5-star review - and a proliferation of knockoffs and copycats at the lower end. The AirPods have in some ways been a victim of their own success, as other companies rush to get a piece of the pie.
Part of the problem is the lack of new hardware. Apple launched the over-ear AirPods Max in December, but it hasn't updated its AirPods earbuds since 2019. The AirPods 3 were strongly expected to come out this spring, but were not mentioned at the Spring Loaded event and now appear to have been pushed back to the autumn.
The lack of strong demand means you're likely to spot appealing discounts as retailers try to get rid of unwanted stock. Check our guide to the best AirPods deals for the latest and best savings.