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  • Don’t Believe the Experts!

    December 26th, 2006

    I realize some of you readers might consider myself an expert of one sort or another — and some of you even believe I present myself in that fashion. But I don’t really consider myself an expert in anything. Instead, I try to distill, evaluate and present information in a way that most people will understand, either in print or on radio. So call me a communicator, although I can’t say that I’m an expert in that category either.

    In any case, in the next couple of weeks, you will read some so-called expert opinions about what Apple should do, will do, can do and shouldn’t do with its new products for 2007. First, there will be more predictions about what might happen at Macworld San Francisco. Alas, with expectations rising to a fever pitch and beyond, whatever Steve Jobs does announce will be a disappointment.

    Take the iPod phone, formerly the iPhone until Linksys came out with a product line bearing that name. If no such thing is ready in January, Apple’s stock price will take a hit. If it isn’t quite what people expect of it, which is the seamless integration of music, telephony, contact management and whatever else you want in a phone, it’ll be a tragic disappointment. Apple has to get it perfect the first time or forget about it. Either way, they’re between the rock and the hard place.

    What about a video iPod? A real one, with larger screen filling the entire device, and virtual navigation controls on the unit itself. It can’t be a pretender, because the experts will say it’s not good enough to combat the growing digital playing gadget competition from Microsoft and others.

    Sure, Microsoft’s Zune is a warmed-over Toshiba, with software derived from the latest version of Windows Media Player. In other words, it was a rush job to get something out for the holiday season — something, anything, since the PlaysForSure makers fell down at the job of competing with Apple on their own merits. None of this matters, because Microsoft says it’s in it for the long haul and will learn from its mistakes with Zune 2.0 and Zune 3.0 or whatever.

    It doesn’t matter that people are not as likely to give a company a second chance when the first opportunity ends in failure. Don’t confuse the expert with logic.

    As to the Macs themselves, well Apple upgraded most everything in recent months, so I expect the best you can hope for, other than major new form factors — such as a “light” MacBook — would be a version of the Mac Pro with four-core processors. That’s not too much of a stretch, since the newest members of the Intel Xeon family are out now, and people have already replaced their processors unofficially, so this is no big deal. In fact, Apple doesn’t have to upgrade any hardware. All they have to do is add an option to check off when you customize a Mac Pro.

    Indeed, you don’t have to be an expert to arrive at that particular conclusion, so I can do it without much fear of contradiction. In fact, I’d be surprised if no such option is offered. What’s more, I expect you’ll see some spiffy new features that will be forthcoming in Mac OS 10.5 Leopard, and perhaps a real shipping date. But, no, there’s no chance it’ll arrive in January, despite what some suggest. I don’t have any specific knowledge, of course, but I can read the tech tea leaves as well as anyone.

    I suppose there is plenty of room for Apple to amaze us, and deliver something unexpected. At the same time, you shouldn’t believe what the experts tell you when it comes to what Apple should do and how they do it. The company has prospered so far in recent years without outsiders telling them what to do. In fact, they quite often do the opposite.

    Of course, that doesn’t sit well with the experts. I don’t think any of them have sat atop a multinational corporation, nor have they shepherded the design and release of successful consumer products. So they can talk about this all they want, but what about the practical experience of doing the tasks they criticize others about.

    This isn’t to say that tech journalists and analysts must all be former executives or design engineers with companies in the fields they cover. If these were among the requirements, pitifully few would qualify. But they should put a sharp, critical eye on the experts they quote to see if they have the credentials to deliver an informed opinion. And if they choose to deliver an opinion themselves, present it with the proper qualifications.

    Yes, I do spent a lot of time telling you about the things I like and do not like about a product or a company’s policy. I speak as a consumer — one that I hope is informed — and not as someone who could replace the people who build those products. At the same time, my hard-earned money is as good as anyone’s, so that gives me the right to complain when I think there’s a reason to do so. But don’t assume I know any more than you do.



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