All of us with IQ numbers in three digits should know the obvious; take what politicians say with a grain of salt, a dose of doubt, and plain old skepticism. Likewise, when it comes to statistics used to prove a point, there are lies, damned lies, and, well, statistics.
Apple is somewhat unique among technology giants in that the company provides investors and watchers with real numbers. Not all the numbers, mind you, but real numbers which are not matched by competitors.
For example, every quarter Apple’s financial results include how many Macs, iPhones, and iPads were sold. The former two are setting records every quarter, while the latter continues to suffer but the iPad itself is a huge and profitable business that any competitor would want.
How many Kindle whatevers did Amazon sell last quarter? Amazon never gets specific with numbers, and that’s a disease that’s been contracted by Google, Lenovo, Microsoft, HTC, and even Samsung recently. Whatever numbers you’ve read about products sold by Apple’s tech gadget competitors are guesses.
Yes, educated or otherwise, whenever you read a headline with numbers in it, chances are that the number is a guess. Here’s an example. A China-based research company called TalkingData says Apple sold a mere 49,000 iPad Pro models in China since the launch, and that did not meet Apple’s expectations.
Without hacking into Apple’s computers in Cupertino, CA (which seems plausible considering how American companies get hacked so frequently and how the sources often seem to be in China), there’s no way that TalkingData could know the actual numbers, or the projected sales numbers.
The headline in DigiTimes, itself not exactly a paragon of accurate news reporting, is unequivocal.
China Market: iPad Pro sales reach only 49,000 units in the first month
That number is treated as fact; not as conjecture, or a report, or an estimate, or a plain old guys. It’s stated as fact, but it’s obvious that only Apple knows the facts, not a China-based research firm.
Research firm is little more than a euphemism for ‘guesstimate factory‘ and most of them, there are many, are churning out numbers faster than the U.S. Treasury churns out debt.
So, where do those imaginary numbers come from? Often, imaginary is the correct term to use, especially with DigiTimes and other industry rags which churn news faster than the Kardashians churn out reality TV episodes. The key to understanding such lies, damned lies, and statistics is to recognize that all such numbers are based on, well, numbers. Researchers could visit 10 Apple stores in China, talk to 100 customers from each store and come up with a sample size of 1,000, then begin extrapolations on whatever query comes to mind, do the math, and call it a day.
The next time you read that such and such company sold more widgets than Apple sold gadgets, remember to track the source. The numbers used never come from the manufacturer, often come from company shills, or researchers shilling their own company, and seldom have basis in fact. Apple’s success with the iPhone is one reason why the company does not hand out too many other gadget numbers, because almost anything compared to the iPhone’s sales will sound anemic. Watch? It’s an iPhone accessory, so should not be considered a product of the same caliber. Good for Apple. Even though we would like to know, the company tries to keep it real.
Remember, Watch was considered a failure after the first 90 days on the market, but just like the iPod back in the early part of the century, I’m starting to see plenty of Apple Watch models in the wild. Yesterday I saw a guy using an iPad Pro and drawing on it while at lunch. Anecdotal, yes, but a more accurate assessment than anything coming from DigiTimes.