What to do if the Mac you need is delayed?

Serious supply chain delays have hit Apple, so if your company (or university) is looking for new Macs, you'd better order them as soon as possible.

Apple's M2-powered MacBook Air

In the run up to last week's Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), a concerning problem hit people trying to order new Macs. For some configurations, customers were told they would have to wait until August to get their new machines. Granted, many of these delays involve systems with added memory or storage. But you can’t upgrade many Macs after you buy them, so – for some – this problem is not trivial.

How bad is the problem? Apple's 14- and 16-in. MacBook Pro laptops, which have been on sale since last fall, are weeks out from delivery. If you order now, you'll have to wait until at least July 28, and maybe well into August, before the new hardware arrives. Even worse: the base 24-in. iMac, if ordered now, won't be in hand for "nine to 10 weeks," according to Apple's online store. (Higher-end iMacs are available right away, however.)  

Many of the delay reports have come from annoyed consumers. But the on-going backlog has had an outsized impact on education and enterprise customers.

I’ll focus first on how the supply chain problems have affected the education market, because that’s who was the most inconvenienced.

Delays hit education hardest

As anyone who’s worked in education – either K-12 or higher ed – knows, summer break is the only opportunity in the year to replace, refresh, or retire your fleet of computers and tablets. For this reason, the device lifecycle in schools is almost completely built around summer break.

If these delays mean a school can’t buy enough Macs to update its fleet this summer, that school won’t have another opportunity for a full year. Schools don’t have other breaks of much longer than a week in any year — and a week is not a realistic timeframe for doing lifecycle management or upgrades.

Colleges and universities, theoretically, could weather these delays a bit better. The winter break between semesters is often several weeks long. IT teams often use that break to manage big projects such as upgrading technologies, archiving student work, and offering training to faculty and staff. While it’s not ideal to attempt major lifecycle management tasks during that short break it is, at least, possible. I have never done a device lifecycle update during that short break between semesters but, in my days in higher ed, I did manage a complete system refresh across several Mac-specific labs.

Enterprise and small business customers are probably less affected by these delays. Typically, a non-education business can do a full or staged lifecycle update at any point during the year since they don’t have any lengthy breaks in their business operations. But the upcoming release of macOS Ventura, which will drop support for a wide range of Macs as part of Apple’s effort to shift customers to Apple Silicon, changes that calculus somewhat, particularly for companies that are largely or completely Mac based.

What happened at Apple?

One major factor behind the delays of new Macs is the supply chain slowdown thathas affected companies across many industries. However, with Apple unveiling new M2-based MacBooks at WWDC — they won't be available until July — it may be that Apple is allowing some of its products to become constrained in order to encourage people to purchase these upcoming models.

(I have certainly suspected them of this sort of strategy before.)

It’s also important to note that shoppers are not experiencing these delays through many of Apple’s resellers. Some Apple sales partners, including Amazon, have Macs available without long delays. Most enterprise and education customers, however, tend to order directly from Apple because that ensures they will easily be able to add their new Macs to Apple School Manager or Apple Business Manager and enable zero-touch deployments.

Some of Apple’s channel resellers can add your purchases to Apple School Manager and Apple Business Manager, but it can be challenging to figure out which resellers can do it. This might mean, too, that you have to work with a vendor you have no previous relationship with or one that doesn’t offer the discount you need. Schools and government agencies often get discounts when they shop with certain vendors, and some of these groups are required to use specific vendors whenever they do technology procurement.

Buying from unsupported vendors

To maneuver through the current delays, you may find yourself shopping around. It is simpler and more expedient to buy direct from Apple – or a vendor supported by Apple – but it is possible to purchase from other companies. This will likely add some steps to the process and probably won’t allow for zero-touch deployment. But, if you are in a crunch, it's worth considering.

If you attempt it, you will need to use Apple Configurator to configure the new Macs and join them to Apple School Manager or Apple Business Manager. This requires booting each Mac and using the Apple Configurator for iPhone app that Apple released last year to make the connection. That process isn’t difficult. In fact, it’s similar to setting up an Apple Watch. You point the iPhone’s camera at an animation that appears in the Mac’s setup screen to start the process. It could be time consuming, though, if you are adding a large number of Macs.

What should you do?

Given the current delays, you have a few decisions to make to navigate it. The first question to ask yourself is if you need that custom Mac configuration, especially if the standard option is available. And, if the standard option is delayed, can you substitute a different model that is available now?

The next question, if you do need that custom-configured system, is can you delay the purchase?

If neither of these are possible, your next step would be to see if you can purchase from a channel partner that enables automatic connection to Apple School Manager or Apple Business Manager.

If that isn’t an option, you’re left with the question of sourcing from a different vendor and manually adding the new Macs. This will take more time and resources, so you’ll need to plan for that, too.

Ultimately the issue comes down to how important this purchase is to your organization. None of these options, or the tradeoffs you will be forced to make, are likely to be ideal for your situation. So, consider this: Maybe there are advantages to delaying your purchase completely. If you wait, you might be able to purchase newer and more powerful powered machines than the custom upgrade that Apple is delaying.  

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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