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  • Apple’s Lost Quarter — Not!

    December 25th, 2012

    Some members of the press seem to believe, or want to believe, that Apple's ascendency is coming to an abrupt halt this holiday season, despite the lack of any evidence that any serious problems exist. I suppose it all began in October, when Mapgate erupted on the heels of the release of a bug-ridden Maps for iOS 6. From here, the hits (or was it misses?) just kept on coming, and it's now perceived that Apple is in serious trouble. That is, unless you take a look at the reality of the situation.

    I suppose Mapgate was very much overblown, since all navigation apps are imperfect. I can cite chapter and verse, but will just give the most recent Google Maps example, when it attempted to route me to a local utility's payment center. A quick glance at the directions, acquired from the site and not the iOS app, showed extra turns that were totally unnecessary. Knowing the area fairly well, I was able to reduce eight turns to five, and probably saved a few minutes of travel time in the process. But at least the directions were correct in terms of accuracy. I can't say the same thing with that recent Google Maps effort to take me to a health food store, putting me a couple of miles short of my destination.

    But Apple over-promised and under-delivered with their version of Maps, which is very much the reverse of the usual situation. It was also easy to post screen shots of the most egregious errors in all the wrong places, so the problems that might have otherwise gotten a few complaints here and there became viral. All right, some of the 3D imaging was bizarre, and when bridges and highways seem to be melting, you have a right to be concerned. At the end of the day, it's about accuracy, and Apple did somewhat worse than the so-called standard-bearer, Google. Thus the decision to remove Google from its default spot in Maps was perceived to be the wrong idea.

    It does appear the media rejoiced in exposing Apple's glass house. Minor errors became major, not that there weren't some really bad ones, such as a certain set of directions in Australia that would leave you stranded in the wilderness, and attracted the attention of the authorities. That the data came from the government's own resources got buried in the text.

    But at least Apple apologized, and Tim Cook dismissed the executives allegedly responsible for this monumental screw-up. Over the past few weeks, some of those maps irritants were vanquished.

    As you might expect, when Google Maps for iOS debuted with millions of downloads, the clear advantages over Apple Maps became front and center. But I never saw a single mention of the fact that my first navigation attempt was greeted with a beta prompt that I had to accept to move on. The voice directions are brief, not very descriptive, and, at least with a Honda's HandsFree system, would connect, disconnect, and reconnect again for a single set of instructions, punctuated by beeps before, between and after. The beeps are a feature of HandsFree, but the multiple connections are just too much. Since there are hundreds of thousands of Hondas equipped with Bluetooth, I am surprised this curious defect isn't being mentioned either. At least Apple Maps, with Siri, doesn't take over my car's audio system. The audio from an iPhone or iPad at full volume is more than enough to get the message across.

    Through it all, Apple's stock price has fallen briskly from a peak of over $700 a share, but not, apparently, with any logical cause.

    Take the introduction of the iPhone 5 in China. There were few lines, so the media assumed sales were tepid, or, to use Steve Ballmer's description of Surface sales, modest. But Apple provided a real dose of reality with the announcement that some two million iPhones were sold in China during the first weekend. You see, they had an online reservation system, so customers only had to go to a dealer to pick up the product they already ordered. That reduced waiting time, and assured customers they'd get the model they wanted.

    Assumptions, assumptions!

    There were also those reports, not officially confirmed, that Apple had cut back on component orders. Of course, sales are apt to be less in the first quarter of a new year, so you would expect that Apple would need fewer parts. But reality checks don't get in the way of fantasies. I think a Ouija Board would do better.

    So how well did Apple do? Well, that won't be known until the latter part of January, except for surveys. The early ones indicate that the iPad mini is going better than expected, and more would have been sold had Apple not been backordered. Oh yes, there's that conspiracy theory that Apple holds back production deliberately to make it look as if a product is in high demand, though the logic behind giving up sales doesn't register on the sanity scale. We know that Apple won't begin to catch up on iMac demand until January, if then, so sales of desktop Macs are bound to be subdued. But it's possible the still-high demand for MacBooks Airs and MacBook Pros will compensate.

    Sure, I suppose Apple could still miss their own or Wall Street's expectations for this quarter. But there's not a lick of evidence of any such possibility, though that won't stop people from just making things up.



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