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Feb 152013
 

Henry Blodget is no stranger to TMA. His link-baiting bust adorns the hallowed halls of Douchbag’s Row. But not all of Blodget’s work is horrible when it comes to Apple, which is a little unusual for writers who have settled into the Apple-bashing schtick to butter their bread. The reason is that in his own way, Blodget is a genius. People can’t truly attach themselves to uniformly bad behavior. If you’re going to be successful at being bad, you can’t be predictable. Take the case of a well-written villain like Jamie Lannister in HBO’s Game of Thrones. In one episode, he’s shagging his sister and knocking-off 11 year-olds, in another (without being too spoiler-y) he’s going on a search for a rival’s lost daughter. Fearless warrior; vile incestuous scoundrel. He’s complex. He does things that are absolutely loathsome and then displays a spark of humanity that momentarily endears you to him – until the next scene. Blodget will write something that makes you think he has a rational view of Apple, then the next piece will be about how Apple is failing because they cut $200 from the price of a laptop. Let’s take a look at Jamie’s latest work.

Only four months after launching a new laptop with a high-resolution “retina” screen, Apple has chopped $200 off the price.

Apple’s 13-inch “Retina” MacBook Pro will now sell for $1,499 instead of the $1,699 original price.

This is a small move, but it’s symptomatic of the broader challenges that Apple (AAPL) is facing.

It’s a small move, unprecedented in the history of the company. Oh wait – Apple lopped $200 off the price of the original iPhone in 2007. That was a 33% price reduction. Result? Apple fell into a spiral of commoditized despair from which it never recovered. Or started its ascent to absolute mobile electronics market dominance, a position it still occupies. One of those two. But don’t let me interrupt Henry as he tells us how a price correction is a symptom of a huge problem for the company.

The most likely reason for a price-cut so soon after launch is that the product wasn’t selling well at the original price. And with the 13-inch MacBook, this would not be a surprise: Reviewers were underwhelmed with the laptop when it was released, arguing that, at $1,699, it was not a good value. Based on the price cut, it appears that Apple laptop buyers agreed.

I swear I coined a term for this trick, but I can’t find it so I’m going to coin a new one: fecal cornerstone – it’s the use of a garbage premise to lend support to bad tech analysis. Blodget has no idea why Apple cut the price of its 13″ RMBP, and there’s not one reviewer who doesn’t write for Gizmodo that was underwhelmed. What I can tell you – backed by the kind of research that writers like Blodget can’t be bothered with – is how the 13″ Retina model lines up with the rest of Apple’s Pro line historically:

Screeny Shot Feb 15, 2013 8.17.18 AM

See what Apple did there? They corrected the price of the 13″ Retina to line up with the historic spread between it and the 15″ model. That’s all they did.

The price cut reveals that consumers won’t rush to buy the latest greatest Apple product just because Apple made it. The price-value tradeoff has to be reasonable. And in the case of the MacBook Pro, it apparently wasn’t.

At least he used the word “apparently”. When your living is made basing your word count on specious, unprovable claims, that’s restraint.

This problem — the price-value tradeoff — has become an issue for Apple far beyond laptops.

We have lift-off.

As smartphones become a commodity, Apple’s most important product line — theiPhone— is experiencing similar challenges. The explosive growth in the smartphone market in recent years has shifted to emerging markets, where price is a major factor in consumer decision-making. By not offering a cheapiPhonethat is affordable for consumers in these markets — $100–$200 without a contract or subsidy — Apple has missed out on much of this growth.

Done OK profit-wise though which, last time I checked my Finance 101 folder, is apparently some kind of important metric.

Meanwhile, the competition at the high end of the smartphone market, where Apple once dominated the field, has become much more intense. And Apple’s premium product — the iPhone 5 — is no longer considered by some to be the best product on the market. Unless Apple can firmly re-establish the iPhone’s superiority, which does not look likely to happen anytime soon, the company may face increasing pressure to improve the price-value proposition for this product, too. And that might be devastating for Apple’s profit margin, which is currently extraordinarily high for a hardware company (emphasis mine).

Unnamed important people think the iPhone 5 isn’t top of the market, and because these unnamed people have judged it inferior, this means that Apple can’t make superior phones anymore, at least “anytime soon”, so Apple will have to make products that eat into its profit margins. When you’re writing is potholed with this many conditionals, it’s known as “playing deep right field at the warning track”.

The same story is playing out in tablets.

RAWR!

The price-value tradeoff of some recent tablet entrants has reduced Apple’s dominance of this product category — a category that Apple invented and, a few years ago, had to itself. The price pressure in the tablet market, in which consumers can now get excellent tablets for much less than Apple is charging, will likely force Apple to continue to improve the price-value proposition of its iPads. And this, in turn, will also likely begin to eat into Apple’s profit margin.

Where are these products? Who makes them? Where are the numbers? Oh yea – we’re at the “2nd back-up example” part of a standard hit piece, because any sound argument needs 2 examples to cement it, regardless of how hilariously far out these examples spiral from the facts.

A few years ago, in phones and tablets, Apple was both the price leader and the product leader. Apple’s products were better than the competition’s, and they were cheaper.

Today, that is no longer the case.

QED, motherfuckers!

And it probably means that Apple’s extraordinary profit margin will continue to decline.

Screeny Shot Feb 15, 2013 7.44.00 AMI guess we’re going to have to agree to disagree on the definition of “continues”, but Blodget and I have this same disagreement about 90% of the words he uses to describe Apple.

 Posted by at 9:26 am
Sep 282012
 

I remember in my 20’s I got a nasty case of food poisoning, which is a common culinary hazard facing recent college graduates living in New York City. What made this particular incident of poisoning memorable was the “end-to-end” nature of the problem. Imagine someone clutching a Rubbermaid trash container, sitting on toilet for 5 hours while his body ejected every ounce of fluid periodically.

For those of you that haven’t understandably opened a new tab in your browser to embrace the comfort of LOLcats, there is an analogy here. Dan Lyons, already an illustruous member of Douchebag’s Row, has written a piece for Gizmodo, whose senior editor is also a member of Douchebag’s Row. Of anything I’ve panned, this is the closest thing I’ve seen resembling simultaneous bi-orifice evacuation.

Upon the limited reflection I’ve allowed myself about Dan Lyons penning something for Gizmodo, it’s really amazing that the two hadn’t found each other before now. Both try so hard to slam Apple that they’ve inserted themselves into their own asses to do it, yet they remain desperately dependent on everything Apple does for the pageviews that feed and clothe them.  Their self-loathing comes from having to regurgitate the company’s successful endeavors while they watch their more successful peers do real journalism. Lyons is still listed as the Newsweek’s “Technology Editor”, even though he’s only written one thing for them since June (must be all that editing). He can’t do Fake Steve Jobs anymore. The inconvenience of the lamprey’s host passing away must have really infuriated him. He does still blog, but he can’t put his anti-Apple screed on the Internet without making a reference to the only thing that made people pay attention to him: his “new” blog is called Real Dan Lyons. Keep huffing Apple’s tailpipe, Dan. Breathe deeply.

So what does it look like when the premier Apple hater writes for a site that hates Apple. Maybe I have a link here somewhere…

I’m sorry, Philosoraptor – they do not.

So let’s do the Dew and make with the command-x, command-v, disabuse routine that has lowered my blood pressure and added years to my life.

Steve Jobs’ Reality Distortion Field Lives On

Because no piece of anti-Apple linkbait can be written without some trope about “great artists stealing” or the “reality distortion field”. At least Lyons does everyone the courtesy of announcing his intentions up front by putting one in the title of his piece. Not that anyone didn’t know what they were in for with him as its author.

The rule of thumb for following Apple is that if you want to know what Apple PR’s official line is, you just need to read the top-tier Apple apologists like John Gruber and MG Siegler.

Another lesser-known rule of thumb is that if you want to know how to hyperbolically slag Apple without evidence, you just need to read Dan Lyons.

They’re pretty much operating as unpaid Apple spokesbots. Apple briefs these guys, but instead of having the balls to do it on the record, Apple feeds them some spin with the condition that they will write it up while attributing their info to “sources who are familiar with the situation.” It’s a bit like being a Kremlinologist and reading Pravda and Izvestia.

Lyons is only interested in unsubstantiated sources when it proves his points – when he can be bothered to source anything at all.

And, sure enough, in the wake of the Mapocalypse, today come Gruber and Siegler with Apple’s spin. Gruber pens “On the Timing of Apple’s Map Switch” and Siegler provides “Ripping Off The Bloody Band-Aid.”

Both fail to discuss the suckiness of the maps app itself and instead spin the story to one about timing. Meaning, why did Apple do this now? Why not wait and switch later? And, of course, in this version of events, Apple is doing the right thing. And, of course, the villain is Google.

Neither “fail to discuss the suckiness of the maps app itself”. Both of them admit to the app’s data shortcomings. What neither is interested in doing, being two rational people that also happen to report on Apple, is rolling around in the company’s perceived missteps like a Golden Retriever in another dog’s shit. That’s Lyons’ trademark move. Apple did this now because it wasn’t worth it to them to wait a year while Google continued to receive location information from hundreds of millions of iOS devices using Google’s maps – which would have made their product better – while denying Apple access to services like turn-by-turn navigation and street view. Mind you, this has been covered by about a thousand other people, but it doesn’t serve Lyons’ purposes, so it doesn’t make it into the piece. Presenting any evidence that may substantiate Apple’s decision-making has no place in the Dan Lyons Vomitorium.

So this is the best Apple can do. They can’t try to pretend that their maps app isn’t a huge step backward. They can’t try to pretend that they aren’t putting their own squabble ahead of the needs of their customers. They can’t try to pretend that they’ve actually devoted sufficient resources to solving a very difficult problem.

Tim Cook thinks it’s the best Apple can do. He’s not pretending that maps isn’t a huge step backwards because it’s just you and dickheads like you that are pretending that it is. Cook’s open letter admitting that maps isn’t up to Apple’s standards may be different than the experiences Dan Lyons is used to with Microsoft – who is typically mute, or Google – who blames everyone else (carriers, manufacturers, those “privacy nutjobs”) for their screw-ups.

I’m going to go off-topic a little here, because it doesn’t address Apple Maps’ shittiness directly. Let me say this bluntly: if you counted on maps – whether it be Google’s or Apple’s – to get you from place to place without any other backstops, you’re a fucking moron. My navigation system consists of Navigon and/or Waze for turn-by-turn and HopStop and/or KickMaps for NYC subway information and iTrans NJT for New Jersey Transit train schedules and gate information. This is the beauty of having a diverse, healthy app ecosystem that isn’t 90% infected by copyright and trademark-destroying sideloadable crapware.

To address Apple Maps’ shittiness directly: it’s not. I fully understand that this may be a product of my living in a relatively populated area of the Northeastern United States. I’ve used Maps and driving directions since the first developer build of iOS 6. I can say without hesitation that the only thing Apple’s Maps have been worse at is the number of local businesses that appear in a particular location. Again, I’m not stupid enough to rely on either Google or Apple to get me where I need to be if it’s important. If that applies to you, you deserve to be as lost as you got. I didn’t spend $400 on a phone that was going to cost me another $2,400 over the term of its contract to cheap out when it came to applications.

What’s left? Stories about Band-Aids, and timing. Yes, by all means, let’s all talk about timing. Timing timing timing. Let’s talk about why this happened now instead of next year. It’s called misdirection, and it’s mostly used by magicians and PR people.

Remember when Bill Clinton was on the ropes with the Lewinsky mess, and every day some Clinton shill like Lanny Davis would come on TV and raise a stink about Ken Starr’s law firm having some kind of conflict of interest, and try to spin the story to be about Ken Starr rather than about whether Clinton was lying or not?

Don’t look here, look there. Oh, hey, up over the hill – is that a flying saucer?

This is pure Apple. They knew – had to know – when they first showed off the new maps earlier this year that the app was a piece of shit. How could they not know? So they did what Apple always does, which is to go out full-blast saying that this new maps app was the bestest, smartest, superduperest maps app ever created in the history of mankind. Oh, and Flyover! Wow! Look at how amazing Flyover is! Why it’s so amazing that TechCrunch said it made Google Maps look antiquated! “Are you listening Mountain View?” is how they put it, saying Apple had just released its own “stunning” maps app.

So let me get this straight: Apple programmed 2 unpaid bloggers – who, unlike Dan Lyons, have otherwise very successful careers – to spew pro-Apple propaganda in the face of a huge app debacle? Not only that, Apple has the press so bedazzled through the use of their “reality distortion field” that they’ve actually praised an Apple product and announced it superior to the offerings of its competitors? That must be some payroll Apple is maintaining.

Remember that now? Apple’s new maps were going to kill Google. This was the death blow. Same for Garmin and others who, the Telegraph noted, were stubbornly “not conceding defeat.” (Fools!)

Imagine: the tech press setting up a dichotomy consisting of one company succeeding at the expense of another. I think you might actually be able to monetize that dynamic on these here intertubes!

See, this is how it works. When you’re foisting a turd off on your customers, you don’t call it a turd. You cover it with shiny sparkly fake jewels and call it a tiara.

Here we start into Lyons’ frothy conclusion segment where he starts banging out his paragraphs without even reading them – faster and faster until he has taken any Apple feature he can think of and mocked it with absolutely no substantiation – other than an over-inflated sense of his own rhetorical prowess – a bulge in his pants growing larger with every keystroke. I’ve got to think that if you did a luminol pass over Dan Lyons keyboard, you’d be a little disgusted with the results.

If it’s FaceTime, the videoconferencing that nobody uses and that just does what loads of other products have done for years, you talk about the Jetsons and how we’re entering a magical space age thanks to Apple and you make a call to Jon Ive and act like you can’t really believe it and oh my God are we actually looking at each other and talking to each other the same time?

FaceTime, the feature that I use every week to speak with my family back home? Is that the feature Lyons’ is raving about? He doesn’t think anyone uses it? What fucking planet are you transmitting from, Dan? I will bet Lyons one thousand dollars that no fewer than 10 million people use FaceTime every day. How about it, Dan?

If it’s Siri, the voice assistant that doesn’t really work, you talk about the power of the revolutionary artificial intelligence that is going to change human civilization and is the product of profound research that has taken decades to perfect and now is “heralding the future,” as Siegler gushed on TechCrunch.

Yes – that’s exactly how Apple billed it: as something that would change civilization. You really have to wonder how Dan Lyons perceives reality. Do you think he reads passages like this to anyone before he publishes them? Maybe he has a gimp in his basement that serves as his editor. It’s at this point in a Lyons piece that I start feeling “Lyons Fatigue”, a condition that comes from ingesting his bile in the quanities that Jizzmodo is allowing him.

Fortunately Apple still has shills who will carry water for them. But it seems significant to me that they’re down to only Gruber and Siegler on this one. I’m sure Apple is briefing others, but so far it appears they’re not going for it. Even Pogue couldn’t bring himself to hold his nose and read from the script this time.

Fortunately for Apple, they still make devices that hundreds of millions of people own and enjoy, evidenced by the lion’s share of the market’s profits they reap and the endless list of customer satisfaction surveys they own. And fortunately for Lyons, enough people will drag their eyeballs across a temper tantrum that would put a 6 year-old to shame for him to eek out a living – for now.

For what it’s worth, there’s still no word from Gruber and Siegler on how they never noticed any problems with maps when they were writing their original reviews. Siegler, for the record, wrote in his original review for TechCrunch that he’d “come away impressed” by the new maps, saying “they’re not bad by any stretch of the imagination.” Now it’s like tearing off a Band-Aid.

For what it’s worth, Dan Lyons is a pathetic human being who sifts through the ashes of controversy for a living while regretting every second of his career since the FSJ salad years, aware that every piece of excrement he throws up for public viewing is another point closer to the origin on the graph of his career trajectory, which can be plotted thusly: r = aθ, where a is a real-number constant greater than 0. Did I go off-topic? Must be this nasty case of Lyons Fatigue.

And, painful as that might be, it’s actually a good thing. See how we did that? The new maps app sucks, but we’re ripping off the Band-Aid quickly, so that’s a good thing.

The only pain being endured here is that of people watching your “journalistic” career die a humiliating death, relieving itself while begging for mercy.

Steve is dead, but the reality distortion field lives on.

And with Steve went any hope Dan Lyons had of remaining in the tech spotlight. Dan’s distortion field, however, will persist as long as there’s sites like Jizzmodo willing to indulge him.

At least the food poisoning left me 20 pounds lighter.

 Posted by at 1:59 pm
May 302012
 

I’m guessing we all saw it, given that we’re all tuned in to most things Apple. I won’t link to it, because Gizmodo is the tech site equivalent of a Love Canal sturgeon. It’s penned by Douchebag’s Row Member Jesus Diaz, as if you needed any other reason not to seek it out.

The piece in question lists 10 things that would have irked Steve Jobs if he was alive today. I’m not saying you shouldn’t write about Apple’s challenges, but there’s a way of doing it that doesn’t make you look like a piece of shit – which Diaz is, without question. I won’t go into the list, which, true to the form of the author’s body of work, is filled with poorly-written half-truths. What I will do is show you the header graphic.

Stay classy, Gizmodo

I’d recommend that Jesus Diaz lose his job, but that recommendation could apply to any one of at least a dozen pieces he’s written. It also assumes that the scumbag Gawker network produces anything that isn’t a stone’s throw away from this afterbirth. In my fantasy life, I dream of the day that Gizmodo gets tired of having to ban a third of the commenters following anything Diaz writes and he’ll be be kicked to the curb. Maybe then Gizmodo will assume some level of decency in its reporting of tech news. But we all know that pieces like this fit exactly into the niche Gizmodo has built for itself. It’s too bad there’s such a large market for them.

 Posted by at 11:10 am  Tagged with:
Feb 142012
 

Disclaimer: I love MG Siegler. I think he’s one of the best writers on the Apple beat today. He’s smart, has access, quotes popular movies to make his points and uses foul language. He’s the complete package. That said, I have a beef, which started taking shape a couple of weeks ago.

When the Times ran its hit-pieces on Apple’s China manufacturing, I was plenty pissed. I waited for other tech writers I respected to vent their speen, but the outcry from people I expected to go after the Times didn’t happen. Gruber’s response didn’t really shock me. He linked to some stuff by Krugman about how people who criticized Apple didn’t understand how global manufacturing worked. I guess for him to step out against a news source largely identified as “left-leaning” would have resulted in some kind of Directive 4 shutdown. I also looked to Siegler and got something, but it was not the profane, knife-twisting that would provide my point of view with vindication. It was decidedly weak tea. After some delay, I began banging out some screed, but I was largely disappointed that the big names covering Apple had apparently phoned it in.

Fast forward to the recent Path fiasco. Straight up: I don’t give a shit about Path’s purported jacking of my address book. There’s a lot more profitable companies with some pretty mediocre products jacking my personal information. I think the practice in general is shitty, but I’ve been conditioned to the point where unless the jacking is balls-to-the-nose obnoxious or done by an app that exchanges it for no value, my sentiment is anecdotal and mostly based on how well it’s executed. Path didn’t execute its jacking very well. It didn’t allow users to opt-in and it got outed by a geek Carrier IQ-style. Path double-clutched, people got mad, Path relented and did the right thing. Case closed, right?

That’s where things break down a little for Siegler. For context: MG moved from mostly-writing to sometimes-writing and mostly VCing, which is great for him. I thought his talents were largely wasted by pointing out the obvious to Apple naysayers.

/sigh

Anyway, he now spends a lot of his time with Michael Arrington managing CrunchFund, which is a VC fund started when Arrington still headed TechCrunch, but is now autonomous. I thought the fact that TC created a vehicle funded by and sponsors of businesses in the sector about which TC writes was stinky cheese, but I threw my feelings in the big bucket labeled “Michael Arrington”, shrugged and moved on. Until Path, that is.

You see, in the course of all the gang-stomping Path was bound to take, most of it warranted, Arrington called out the Times’s Nick Bilton for drawing out Path’s transgressions in all of the comically one-sided and selectively factual style that I’ve come to expect from them (minus the dozen anonymous sources leaned on in the Apple-Foxconn articles). The fact that CrunchFund is an investor in Path made it a little inappropriate. Then MG piled on, and in that bless-his-soul writing style I’ve come to know and love began a piece that ripped Bilton a new one, then proceeded to rip the tech writing practice in general a new one, in summary: “Most of what is written about the tech world — both in blog form and old school media form — is bullshit”. As someone similarly sick of the phenomenon, the words were directed straight at the choir, but in the context of his new role, belied an obvious conflict of interest. It got worse. He went after a Gawker’s Ryan Tate, something I’d normally celebrate naked, but did it in defense of Path. A perfect opportunity to char-broil the blog network guilty of the most legendary mishandling of user information in recent memory (which cost me money just last week –  #fuckyouNickDenton) was squandered. Meanwhile, the people who might take exception to Siegler’s screed – and that boy had compiled quite the list – now had a 50′ strawman to light up. While numerous writers nibbled around the juicy center, the writer who ended up wielding the torch was none other than Dan Lyons. He got ahold of the issue and – strike me dead for saying this – wrought a piece of damning firebrand that had me nodding my head with respect and self-loathing in equal parts. MG, who is the only person I’ve read who possibly hates Lyons more than I do, retaliated. Arrington tried to high-road him, which is just about as funny to actually read as it is to envision reading. To channel Siegler, this was about the time in Animal House when Belushi yells “Food fight!” and the cafeteria explodes into a cloud of flying lunchgoods.

To me, MG Siegler represented one side of Apple’s coverage: informed, aligned with reality, speaking truth to stupid. Lyons was firmly entrenched on the other side: almost always contrarian (where the establishment is represented by “logic” and “facts”) and one of the most articulate pure click-baiters in the blogosphere.  I’ll continue to read Siegler, but I’m a little disappointed that he’s letting his current involvement with Arrington and CrunchFund compromise his attempts to righteously crucify idiots like Lyons. By definition, he can never be right about Path. Every word used to take down those who want to pile on will be another squirt of gasoline on the fire, no matter how smart, astute or funny they are. The smartest thing he can do at this point is to stop writing about it. I hope it’s a lesson he carries with him in his future VC endeavors. Let Arrington wave his hand dismissively at those pointing out the inappropriateness of mixing self-interest and content – no one expects more from him. Let other hacks walk into punches like this.

And screw you for making me concede anything to Dan Lyons.

Apr 082011
 

One of TMA’s major gripes about Apple’s media coverage is how really horribly malformed the technology press landscape is. If you combine the high-turnover nature of the consumer electronics industry – where major product announcements happen literally every day – with the general decline of journalistic standards for reporting them (another fine benefit of the pageview model of monetization – big ups, Google!), you can find yourself quickly immersed in an environment that makes you stupider with every word seared onto your retina.

Some habits are more awful than others. As a consumer (and sometime regurgitator) of copious amounts of bad tech writing, TMA has distilled the five most blood pressure-challenging writing habits in tech:

The “What company x can learn from company y” article

When a technology company does something right, it’s only a matter of time before some master the obvious points out that a company that does something poorly could benefit from doing that particular thing well – as if it were some transferable skill for which the failing company could go to night school. The reason so many people writing about technology companies don’t work for them – or for any company for that matter – is that they don’t understand what it takes to change behavior on a company-wide scale. Thank goodness they can oversimplify it and provide facile recommendations in their blog.

The interrogative headline

What does it mean when you read an Apple headline that ends with a question mark?

More than half the time, some asshole is trying to keyword his post in an attempt to drum up page views, yet cannot commit to a declarative statement in the headline. It’s almost like the writer thinks he’s invoking some trick of the trade designed to protect him against a lawsuit from Apple if he did, in fact, make an outrageous claim. These articles without exception are absolute crap. When I encounter a title in my RSS feed that contains a question mark at the end, I quietly answer “no” and move onto the next one.

What Apple needs to do with their cash on hand

There’s no more predictable activity for an Apple beat analyst than to call for Apple to do something with their cash reserves the day after they announce how much they have. I’m starting to think Apple may actually keep so much in reserve just to host a quarterly company-wide drinking game based on all the stupid suggestions that invariably come out of the woodwork. Here are some of my favorites:

  • “Apple will buy Time Warner Cable” by Robert X. Cringely. Rest assured, Cringely: you’ve already got one of those “Reserved” table placards to hold your seat for the inevitable induction into Douchebag’s Row. Quick visual aid: what does this website header make you want to do?

If you answered “throw haymakers until I pass out from exhaustion”, you are correct.

Nice PS2 keyboard, BTW.

Douche.

  • “Apple is in late stage negotiations to buy Twitter and is hoping to announce it at WWDC in June” according to “a normally reliable source” by Mike Arrington. TMA has no doubt that the source was Google Analytics, who had notified him that his site hadn’t produced any eyeball-catching excrement in at least 14 minutes.

Here’s what Apple will do with their cash: continue to secure components like Flash RAM and LCD panels in bulk, which will allow them to beat competitors on price and help freeze the development of copycat products for a couple months. Oh- and they might buy TiVo.

Anecdotal sample sizing

Picture the image of the journalist from 20 years ago: determined, resourceful and quoting studies that are statistically significant. Possibly donning a cool fedora that didn’t make him look like a middle-aged man who for some reason started wearing a fedora (I’ve been seeing these people everywhere in NYC lately). Now contrast that with your average tech blogger: high word count, Wikipedia-driven and content to ask their three best friends’ opinion to substantiate a pivotal point in the article. Nothing says “I suck at journalism” as efficiently as the use of “everyone I asked” and “numerous people I talked to”. You’re writing about an industry made up of precision instruments – stop supporting your claims like someone who freelances for the National Enquirer, not that the two are mutually exclusive .

Asinine predictions to drive pageviews

If I could use one phrase to summarize the state of Apple’s coverage in the tech media, this would be it. I suppose it’s the biggest downside of being simultaneously super-successful and uber-secretive: every asshole’s sensationalistic projection for your products has a chance of seeing the light of day. Whereas Microsoft uses this tactic to play sites like Engadget like a fiddle to stifle competition with a product they have no intention of releasing, the constant generation of unrealistic expectations for companies that actually ship things could eventually lead to consumer disappointment. Thankfully, no one really listens to them. The sources of these predictions are usually “one and done” analysts/bloggers with a “strong connections to a reliable source” but many of them *cough* Scott Moritz *cough*remain bulletproof after several incorrect guesses fall squarely on their faces. Some of these asinine mouthforms are actually antithetical to their corresponding real-world events. Yet they persist. Guess TMA will have to keep writing.

So those are your top 5. I’m sure you can think of your own. I’d love to hear about them in comments as I’m in the market for a new drinking game.

Jan 042011
 

Happy New Year to the TMA readership. My resolution: 2560 x 1440.

/boom-tish. Try the Salisbury steak.

With a new year, writers across the land feel compelled to make a bunch of baseless predictions and tech is no exception. I came across some from Google employee Tim Bray in his “ongoing” blog. I didn’t find any of the prognostications in “Year-end View of the Mobile Market” particularly insightful or interesting, but they do speak volumes about how Google thinks. Mercifully, Bray does prepare readers for how patently obvious many of his predictions are. I’ve taken up the challenge of summarizing each of his “things that seem obvious” in 5 words or less. You can click through to see how I did.

In 2011, the smartphone market will/be/continue to (OK, I cheated a bit):

  • Sell a lot of phones
  • Further squeeze “dumb” phone sales
  • Apple, Android > RIM, Nokia, Microsoft
  • Windows 7 Phones: Verdict Unclear

Then he says something about a $500 contract free phone being less than a $199 phone with a contract and wonders when someone will offer financing. Like they have for appliances. Really.

So what are Bray’s not-so-obvious things?

  • The major barrier for tablets replacing laptops? “High-speed low-friction text input”. Translation: the opposite of Android’s touchscreen input.
  • “I’m increasingly coming to think that people buy phones based on the quality and volume of old-fashioned advertising put behind the products. Not coincidentally, not only are the iPhones and iPad excellent devices, they have what is to my eye probably the best advertising in the mobile industry.” Ladies and gentlemen: our first moneyball. The difference between Apple’s and Android’s relative success is marketing. You can see this theory expanded on over at Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite.
  • Apple is going to do a 7″ device. That’s certainly not so obvious. In fact, that’s about 3 colors of the rainbow into Fantasyland. Why will Apple do a 7″ device? “(It) still fits in one hand and you can use for four hours in a row sitting up.” Does Bray mean you can’t use an iPad sitting up for 4 hours? I certainly can. Does he mean having a device that can be extended at arm’s length for 4 hours? Try doing that holding nothing. He concludes emphatically with “This argument is over“, and by the italics you can tell he means it. They should bring Bray in for closing arguments. He could be a Mariano Rivera-esque consultant to defense attorneys. James Spader’s character in Boston Legal just peed his pants a little.

But Bray is at his most compelling in the section titled “Apple vs. Android”, where he pits the advertising powerhouse in Cupertino against the Open Source champions in Mountain View. Who wins?

“I think Apple will sell a ton of devices because they’re good, and superbly marketed. I think a bunch of people will sell a ton of Android devices because they’re good and there are so many options for different needs and networks and price-points.” Emphasis mine

Both are good devices, but that goddamn marketing – those fucking unicorn tears – that’s what lands Apple those insanely high margins EVEN THOUGH THEY’RE ON ONE CARRIER IN THE U.S.!

Let me break it down for you, Tim. The difference – that most obvious of obvious factors you allude to but don’t quite concede – is Verizon. Here’s an illustration of Verizon’s current smartphone unit sales, a period of time I like to call “Before iOS” or “BiOS”, or as you’ll come to remember them: the Salad Years.

This is what will happen at “Zero Hour”, which is immediately after the iPhone becomes available on Verizon. This is also the beginning of “In the year of our Jobs” or “AiOS”.

Finally, once most people are able to rid themselves of their existing contracts and avoid cancellation fees, the landscape should be pretty-well stabilized. Until the iPhone 5…

To wrap up the piece, Bray waxes optimistic about future of the Android platform”

“And there’s nothing fundamental in Android that would get in the way of a industrial-design and user-experience rock-star team, whether at Google or one of the handset makers…”,

And there’s nothing fundamental in the way of my becoming the next Justin Bieber. I can inflect my speaking voice in a way that qualifies as singing, even though I’m not something you’d pay to listen to – or stick around for long if it were free. I have a blog, so there’s really minimal distance between, say, an entry in Douchebag’s Row and some hit single that makes sane people claw at their eyes. I can play chopsticks on the piano, so I am musically inclined – fundamentally. Everything between here and the Top 10 is details.

“…testing the hypothesis that these things are central to Apple’s success.”

Testing the hypothesis that something besides the snappy songs in those ads are what make Apple the most valuable brand in the technology sector. Because – you know – they’re engineers. They need to test all hypotheses, no matter how unlikely.

I’m picturing the Android team’s faces when smartphone unit sales are announced for the first and second quarter of 2011. The genuine looks of befuddlement will be the best part.

Aug 312010
 
I don’t usually do predictions, but for the Apple-shaped Guitar Sound Hole Thingy event tomorrow, I’m going to make an exception because it’s rumored to include my favorite Apple non-product: the AppleTV.

The Potential

The reason the AppleTV holds such a special place in my heart is because of its potential. In the land of the cloud, Apple is a media giant. It’s the de facto standard in electronic music distribution and a major supplier of movie, TV show and podcast content. They’ve also got a foot in Audiobooks and a major educational presence in iTunes University. So why hasn’t the AppleTV caught fire the way all of their other devices have?

The Problems

In a nutshell, the AppleTV is primarily a way to enjoy content you buy or to view content once (or however many times within a 24-hour window) that you rent from iTunes. Secondarily, it’s a device that allows you to view video content you got somewhere else. The difference? Apple only allows you to play video encoded in MPEG-4 or H.264 – so re-rip it (the content), hack it (the device -with the excellent ATV Flash or similar tool) or suck it. Ownership is the major distinction between Apple’s offering and subscription services like Netflix, which allows streaming from any browser, iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad (WiFi or 3G). Although content available for streaming is much thinner that Apple’s library, the entry-level streaming accounts priced at $9/month are very attractive option for consumers wanting to supplement – or eliminate – cable. You’d think that paying once and owning content would be superior to streaming content and paying in perpetuity, and you’d be right if the studios and networks weren’t still dicking around with the definition of “own”.

With the exception of music, Apple’s media presence is unleveraged because studios and networks are still making money with their current models.  In what probably cost Steve his liver, Jobs dragged the album-peddling studio dum-dums kicking and screaming to a distribution model that saved their businesses from piracy. With the successful access to content and its subsequent freeing from DRM, the success of Apple’s iPod was assured. Now we have another army of dum-dums: the studios and networks, which have different problems with a common theme. People want their movies and TV shows regardless of what device they reside on. They don’t want the movies they bought for $16.99 to come with a coupon to download the digital version of what they already own for $1.99, and have that copy cement-shoed by DRM. They don’t want to be locked into a timeslot to view their TV Shows, slogging through horrible program options and hours of commercials on the good stuff. The problem is that content providers are still making money with a model that doesn’t give a shit about what people want. So studios continue to layer copyright protection and people continue to flock to torrent sites to get their media.  Apple has been aggressively lobbying media outlets – particularly networks – to loosen their restriction on their content, but the it has been very slow going. Apple has made some progress with the “Authorized Devices” provision on content purchased from iTunes (you can share movies and TV shows with iTunes on up to 5 computers and unlimited the iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads they sync with), but the restrictions on video content need to be shaken loose if any set-top device is going to work – even one from Apple. And dealing with the networks and cable providers is even more facepalm-inducing than dealing with studios.

As the guys at Three Guys and a Podcast point out, networks have a deal with the cable companies: when you carry our content, you carry our stable. We’ll give you a couple of studs, like ESPN and a couple gluebags, like Lifetime (note that the examples given reflect a slight bias on the part of the author). Sounds a lot like the record studios, doesn’t it? Except this model is much more insidious. When you’re dealing with a cable company, you’re dealing with multiple networks, each with their own demands. Compound this with different geographical markets demanding different price points (imagine what they get for CMT in Nashville?) and the market power of the particular cable provider. As complex as this is, I’m sure I’m simplifying these relationships by orders of magnitude. You may think “Good luck unraveling a la carte network pricing in our lifetime”, but one should never underestimate the influence of a man who brought an end to DRM for music.

So because the AppleTV is primarily a device that plays content you buy from Apple, its fortunes track the restrictions placed on that content. While they are not particularly onerous now, when compared to the current state of music ownership, it’s enough to render the device a failure relative to the monster successes that douchebag analysts and tech bloggers are used to seeing from Apple.

The Predictions

A lot of people predict a refreshed AppleTV tomorrow. There’s a lot of speculation in the blogosphere about what this will look like, but most of them focus on 2 things that I have a problem with from a common sense perspective: that the AppleTV’s form factor will become somehow smaller or “sleeker” (a pundit term for what makes Apple products too expensive and port-barren) and that the device will become less expensive – in the $99 range.

1. Form factor. I can’t see a reason to change it, but a good one to keep it: it now shares the same footprint as the Mac Mini. I’m sure there’s some manufacturing advantage to having 2 different devices sharing similar dimensions.

2. Price. Apple doesn’t price marquis products at $99. If it does, it’s after a few generations at a premium point.

Of course, if Apple’s design assumptions for the device were predicated exclusively on streaming content (made possible by a revolutionary set of agreements with studios and networks), that would eliminate the need for the local storage currently contained in shipping ATVs. This in turn would probably change the form factor and lower the price. It’s possible that this thing was redesigned in advance of any game-changing content agreements.

The one thing I do agree with is that the device will receive an iOS (read app-centric) UI overhaul. Right now, Apple has 3 major UIs and only 2 of them are developer friendly. The ATV now essentially has a click-wheel iPod UI and no developer inroads. Bringing the ATV into the iOS fold allows Apple to better focus its UI effort for two UI genres instead of three and to open more virgin soil to developers via the iOS SDK.

I like to hedge as much as the next Apple blogger. If I had to commit to a prediction for the AppleTV (or, *sigh* iTV), I’d say yes to #1, although I don’t think the agreements with content providers are yet to a point where a storage-free device is optimal. I don’t agree with #2: that price is an analyst’s market-jerking wet dream and little else. I think the device’s move to iOS is a no-brainer.  Of course, TMA always has hope for that “one more thing” that will blow the roof off of yet another media paradigm.

An AppleTV that replaces Tivo, hosts content that can be played anywhere via MobileMe and has a la carte subscriptions by channel or network isn’t too much to ask, you know.

Update

So the event has come and gone and the iPod line has gotten its fall color. As far as the AppleTV, it looks like I got Apple’s pricing dead wrong. Like analysts, I could use the backdoor “if they made it smaller, they could drop the price”, but honestly I didn’t see it falling to $99. Market-jerking, indeed. Also wrong: iOS. I do think this is the future, though, especially if Apple wants to make it more than just a media terminal.

I also think Steve has to be pissed that rentals are the only option for (the device still called the) AppleTV. I think he had more ambitions for his network deals. Although $.99 is a throwaway as a rental, it’s for a TV show and you get squadoosh once your rental expires. If the offerings don’t include Showtime and HBO offerings, that’s a loser for me. I’ll snap me up some Weeds for $.99 in a second though.

Spreading the Love

 

You may think that I only talk up Apple and rip on Microsoft in the privacy of my own domain name.  Dear reader‚ welcome to the anti-social.  I feel I have to periodically dress down the dreck that pollutes most tech site comment sections.  I’d like to share a few of my favorites:

Lifehacker’s 7/29/09 Panty Knot over Apple’s Rejection of the Google Voice App:

LOL.  And I always thought LH had some kind of screening process for their comments.  I guess when the premise is as poorly thought-out as this‚ all the rocks turn over.

The exclusive deal between Apple and AT&T brought the iPhone into the world.  AT&T got a lock on a specified revenue model for 5 years and Apple got unrestricted authority on the design‚ engineering and marketing of the product.  When an app infringes on one of the assumptions of the revenue model‚ the carrier has a right to bitch.  And as far as this app rejection “roulette” metaphor goes‚ please.  There are over 65‚000 apps in the store.  Give me 10 that have been arbitrarily bounced (and not later re-instated) without just cause.

I’ve really come to expect a little more in the way of perspective on this site.  Maybe you’ve been huffing Gizmodo’s tailpipe a little too long?

Motley Fool’s 7/28/09 Fomenting on the Growing Apple Monopoly

Wow. Did I mistakenly clickthrough to thestreet.com?

Apple benefits from having the smartphone market entered by a worthy competitor to siphon market share from RIM and WinMo. Apple does not benefit from companies that leech functionality from their software without it being properly licensed‚ the same way it won’t be allowing/tacitly supporting this functionality for Blackberries and HTC Fuzes.

Despite the inflammatory headline‚ you finally do point out the real cause of Google Voice being pulled: it was AT&T’s decision. Plain and simple. Implying that this is AT&T having Apple act in its monopolistic interests is irresponsible to put in print. Their deal is based on a revenue model for calls and texts. Do you really think Apple has a vote‚ or even veto power in this regard? It wouldn’t surprise me if your answer was “no” (editors note: obv‚ this should be “yes”.  TMA is not above comment blurt. *sigh*)‚ given the level of knowledge that underlies this article in general.

Maybe you should peruse some of your idol’s greatest Apple foments if you desire to create the desired buzz. I’d rate your efforts at inflammatory journalism maybe 6th grade‚ tops.

PC World’s Bill Snyder 1/19/2010 bashing of the iTablet as useless to business – more than a week before it’s even announced

So I have to sign up for at least one newsletter from PC World (it won’t let me register until I choose one) in order to leave a comment about how terrible this article is? This site is a joke on at least 3 levels:

1. The “substance” of your rant is based on a product THAT HASN’T BEEN ANNOUNCED. From a standpoint of any kind of journalistic integrity: really? I mean, seriously: really?

2. Your ridiculous diatribe is the most nauseating display of hit-whoring I think I’ve ever seen. Smell that rotting stench hanging in the air? That’s your publication’s credibility. In fact, I’d like to congratulate you on officially knocking down the entire craft of tech blogging. Kudos!

3. You make people subscribe to one of your toilet-wipe publications for the privilege of being able to tell you how awful your story is (rest assured, the place in gmail’s “spam” folder has already been carpeted in anticipation of your arrival). Does it get any worse?

You epitomize everything wrong with the expression of an opinion on the internet. It’s based on nothing, predates an announcement guaranteed to get you eyeballs and requires anyone desiring to point out your obvious lack of journalistic skill or ethics to infect themselves with your e-wares. This should disgust everyone reading it.

/.’s 1/26/10 discussion of the article “Apple Paradox: Closed Culture, Free-Thinking Fans”, which apparently finds a paradox between Apple’s tight information culture and the people who use their products:

“Apple is a “Master’s Workshop” set up in the spirit of some of the world’s great architectural firms. There is a visionary who leads and provides the Passion that allows others in their roles to feel like they’re doing the Lord’s work. There are very capable lieutenants, but the vision of the master rules the day. The master knows he’s beholden to the effort of his lieutenants, and makes sure they are motivated by the Passion and well-compensated for their effort.

Great things aren’t made by committee, at least not in the crowdsourced sense. When you make your money providing a consistently great user experience, more is not better. Again, this goes back to the “Master’s Workshop” structure. Great architecture is not made via the blended vision of 25 individuals; it was one person’s vision, well-executed by a team of 25.

The reason for the one voice is also strategic. Fewer leaks = more hype. You’ll notice the clamor for the Apple Tablet started over a year ago, and none of it came from Apple. It still doesn’t, and we’re a day from the likely announcement of the device. Unlike some companies who announce products with world-altering features and nebulous shipping dates, Apple doesn’t announce until the vision of the product is perfect – and only then on their terms.

So people can whine about Apple’s closed nature if they want. The company’s restricted access and the use of Apple’s products by creative, free-thinking individuals have nothing to do with each other. This is perhaps ironic in only the most cursory definition of the word. In order for them to create the products they want to create, on their schedule, this level of control is not just desirable, it’s essential. Great products are visions, not zoo exhibits, regardless of how butthurt the people who don’t have access to the vision feel about their roles outside the process.”

5/10/10 – Computerworld blogger and future Douchebag’s Row alumnus Preston Gralla “Android Whips the iPhone in 2010 sales: Will Apple Celebrate?” where Preston brags about Android phone sales figures for the 231098 different phones it offers across all carriers beating out the iPhone, then says it’s a good thing because the speculated on but non-existent anti-trust investigation into Apple’s iPhone becomes less compelling  when Apple has less market share.

Subj: WinMo Share Plummets for Millionth Consecutive Quarter; Will Microsoft Kill Itself?

Aside from the click-bait headline, you did get one part of the headline right: Apple is celebrating. Android has spawned a bunch of “buy-one, get-ones” the quarter before everyone is waiting for Apple’s next phone. Soooo…off 7% in volume a month before a major device release – all with margins that smash any of Android’s phones.

There’s your celebration.

And the theory that an anti-trust action against Apple is lessened by this quarter’s results is predicated on it happening at all, which is hilarious.

 Posted by at 10:02 am
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