There are statistics and there are statistics. I suppose you could make numbers demonstrate just about anything, including your personal point of view, if you just manipulate the numbers somehow. Thus a poor selling product can become a great selling one if you happen to ignore most of the source information about the sales of your largest competitor. This is how Google was able to claim they sold more Nexus 7 tablets than Apple sold iPads in Japan last year. The scheme: The survey omitted the Apple Store, Apple's online storefront, and some wireless carriers that, together, accounted for much of the iPad's sales.
The end result was yet another attempt by Apple's competition to lie about what they do rather than compete on merit and actual sales, which is how you expect things to work. But, in the real world, things aren't so cut and dry.
So on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, cutting edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, from Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider, once again took on one of his favorite topics, the platform wars. This time he exposed the false report that Samsung's mobile handset profits exceeded those of Apple's iPhone, and the curious claims of declining iPad market share in the wake of reports that 84% of the tablets going online are — iPads.
You'll also heard from tech journalist Jim Dalrymple, Editor in Chief of The Loop, who also offered his usual direct comments on the platform wars involving Apple versus Samsung/Google and Microsoft, along with the various predictions about future Apple products.
In addition, industry analyst Stephen Baker, Vice President for Industry Analysis at the NPD Group, discussed Microsoft's problems selling Surface tablets, the prospects for Google's Chromecast, and the possible future of 4K or Ultra HD TV.
Now there is a curious segment in our interview with Baker, in which he attempts to explain how Google could pretend that the Nexus 7 had higher sales than the iPad. It seems it's OK for a firm to report numbers of this sort, so long as the terms and conditions in accumulating that data are clearly spelled out. That the numbers create a false impression is a second consideration, so long as they are accurate within the prescribed limitations. So next time we report on the miserable Surface tablet sales, we can omit Microsoft's own stores and online storefront, so the results will be even worse. OK, I get it.
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It would seem that it's not really hard to accurately report about Apple. The sales numbers and financials are clearly posted on Apple's site, and you can conveniently compare the numbers to previous quarters and previous years. You can even compare the financials to other companies, within the limits of their reporting. And there's a generous amount of new product and OS information to be had just by checking the site. At least that's a start.
As part of any competitive environment, it's a sure thing that some companies will try to cheat, not by delivering false financials, which may violate the laws in the countries in which they operate, but by emphasizing the numbers that look good and deemphasizing those that might look bad, or just not including them altogether.
So we do not know how many Amazon Kindle tablets have been sold, although so-called industry analysts attempt to make educated guesses by surveying the retail channels and scrutinizing the financials. We do know that Amazon lost a few million dollars during the last financial quarter, though that's par for the course for that company. Much of what would pass for profit in other companies is simply invested back into the company to fuel further growth. That Amazon is adding thousands of jobs as a result is a good thing. Cash flow is also great, but, as I said, Amazon only reports slim profits.
That's how Amazon does business, and the company is undeniably successful. However, Apple is judged by a different standard. If the company fails to deliver profits at higher levels than the rest of the industry, they are perceived as somehow failing. It doesn't matter that the profits recorded amount to billions of dollars, or that the company has a huge cash reserve, enough to manage sizable deficits, should they ever occur, for many years. Apple must be failing.
Even Samsung, which is larger than Apple, and has far more product divisions, doesn't deliver the same proportion of profits. But that didn't stop one survey company from making up false interpretations of the financials from Samsung's handset division to make it seem as if they are earning more profits from smartphones than Apple. As someone said, surveys are only as good as the source material, and how it is interpreted. In this case, the surveying organization failed, deliberately or otherwise, to realize that Samsung's handset division also includes tablets and PCs. And that's before they reported Samsung's profits before taxes, and Apple's profits after taxes.
Worse, the Apple numbers were thrown together by simply halving the company's profits and assuming that covered the iPhone, which is actually the company's largest profit maker in every respect. Such fakery delivered a misleading impression of how well Samsung was doing, ignoring the company's own warnings of declining profits from high-end smartphones. Indeed, the Galaxy S4, although it sold 20 million copies in the first two months, is not perceived to be as successful as some hoped, or expected.
Now you would assume that journalists who actually practiced the craft would, rather than just copying a press release, actually look at the sourcing and logic behind the claims and statistics and reach their own conclusions. That, however, requires actually doing research and reporting the results. Very few ever bother, and even when the report in question was corrected by a few real journalists, such as AppleInsider's Daniel Eran Dilger, the truth behind those deceptive figures was largely ignored. So the public was left with the false impression that Samsung's now earns more money from smartphones than Apple, when the reverse continues to be true.
Such companies as Samsung may also take deliberate of advantage of media inattention. So, for example, it was recently exposed in AnandTech, a tech site, that Samsung inserted code in the Galaxy S4 smartphone that would make it run faster when you ran some benchmark apps. So the results would be inflated. It would run at normal speed otherwise, no doubt because battery life and general system reliability would be negatively impacted.
Of course, Samsung denied the claim, which is par for the course in such situations. Would you honestly expect their executives to say, "Well, yeah, we cheated so people would think the Galaxy S4 runs much faster than the competition." But Samsung is also faking it in at least one TV ad I saw recently. In that one, people are on an airplane, and one person is showing how the Galaxy S4 scrolls automatically when tilted. On the screen, scrolling is fast. In the real world, the tilt to scroll feature often doesn't even work, and when it does, it scrolls slowly, very slowly, even with the speediest setting. Actually, I've never been able to get it to work, except for the initial setup.
But it's not just the media that is often asleep at the wheel. Consider Consumer Reports, America's number one product testing magazine that claims to be incorruptible because everything they test is purchased at retail. They don't take third-party ads, nor accept manufacturer loans (although this may be done for a preliminary evaluation before a shipping product is purchased and tested). But when they reviewed the Galaxy S4, they never bothered to mention that a lot of the bloatware stuffed onto the device barely works, or doesn't work at all. They also seemed not to notice that all that junk fills nearly half the available storage space on the 16GB version. That is a serious negative that went unreported.
And, of course, far too many members of the media want you to believe that Apple is in serious trouble, even though sales and profits remain high. A few even want Tim Cook to be fired. One suggested he be replaced by former hardware executive John Rubinstein. Remember Rubinstein's last gig? He led Palm, and we all know how that turned out.
But asking softball questions and repeating talking points isn't exclusive to the tech media. You watch just about any nationally syndicated mainstream interview program, such as NBC's "Meet The Press," and you'll rarely see a public figure being taken to task for making a particularly dumb comment, or repeating an and tired argument that has been shown to be false.
For most of this year, I have been using Samsung smartphones rather than iPhones. It's not because I decided to give up on Apple and adopt Android. But Samsung makes it relatively easy for journalists to examine their mobile gear, so I took advantage of the opportunity to learn how the other half (or three-quarters) lives.
The first gadget I evaluated was the Galaxy S3, and I got the Galaxy S4 within days after it went on sale at the major wireless carriers in the U.S. While the Galaxy S4 has been reasonably successful for Samsung, with reports that they shipped 20 million in the first two months, it's not really certain how many were actually delivered. With Samsung warning of potential problems with future high-end smartphone sales, maybe there's a lot of inventory out there still sitting in warehouses or on dealer's shelves.
In any case, Samsung has made a huge deal of all the terrific and exclusive features offered on the Galaxy S4. Android is seldom mentioned. Some have a little entertainment value, such as being able to remove someone form a video as you're taking it. Others, such as the tilt to scroll feature mentioned in the previous article, don't always work, and it never worked for me except during the setup routine.
One thing you do see, however, is that Samsung and Android have ongoing fit and finish shortcomings. Android's Notification Center, for example, is supposed to be better than the iOS version, because you can toggle some system settings, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Sync and others, on a single convenient screen. Prior to iOS 7, you had to go through several settings screens to make similar changes on an iPhone. With the forthcoming iOS upgrade, there will be a separate Control Center screen to alter these and other settings.
But Apple has the better idea. It's far too easy to accidentally turn off a key system feature with the Android version. It's happened to me many times, usually when pulling it out of my pocket when the Notification Center has been activated. On one occasion, the Galaxy S4 stopped syncing the Chrome browser with the bookmarks stored in my Gmail account, and they simply disappeared. I just happened to notice Sync was accidentally turned off; when it was turned on, all my bookmarks returned. When you allow a key feature to be deactivated with a random or accidental tap, it's bad design, period.
On the whole, the Galaxy S4 makes for a pretty good telephone, however, with great sound, for a wireless phone at least, and it rarely drops calls on the AT&T network. But switching to an incoming call while talking to somebody else isn't as seamless as it is on the iPhone. All right, I'm using a Call Block app to get rid of telemarketers, which may complicate matters. The Phone app interface is also contaminated by Samsung, which is not a good thing.
Although measuring twice as fast in a benchmark run as the Galaxy S3, it feels hardly faster in normal use. Despite a higher advertised screen resolution, text is not noticeably sharper. And if you look real close, you can see the tiny pixels, which are supposed to be invisible with such a high resolution. I can't see them on my iPhone 4s, nor on my wife's third generation iPad.
Now AT&T recently pushed an update for the Galaxy S4. Despite being hundreds of megabytes large, it's not at all clear that much has changed. The best I can see in real world use is somewhat more fluid operation, with fewer app crashes. But I still have to restart the handset every day or so, or run a system optimization app to kill unused apps when the browser stops browsing.
This doesn't mean that the iOS is necessarily free of defects, interface lapses, or app bugs. But Apple still provides a superior, more fluid experience. Yes, you can customize an Android phone to a fare-thee-well, but most of the alterations have little real world value. Compared to a PC, a smartphone — and a tablet for that matter — should be considered appliances. That means they should just work with minimal configuration. Sure, offering a reasonable set of options to customize the interface and other settings is a good thing. But going too far hurts the user experience, and handset reliability. Does Google even care?
Right now Google's biggest problem, though, is the fact that they've very much lost control of the platform. Samsung is the largest Android handset maker by a hefty margin, and earns most of the profits. It's also clear they are going their own way. Will that mean forking Android into a custom Samsung version — or ditching the platform altogether? Time will tell.
Meantime, the Galaxy S4 has some nice features. The large, sharp screen is undeniably attractive, although it washes out severely even on a cloudy day. All in all, for me at least, the iPhone is still the one to beat.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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