A Tricky Poll with Tricky Results

July 21st, 2016

You can use a poll to prove mostly anything you want. One way is to choose participants that would tend to favor the point of view you want to convey. So a poll meant to show a Republican candidate in the U.S. as having an advantage in an election might choose sneak more Republicans into the sampling pool to get the answer they want. Or perhaps add some Democrats who occasionally vote for a Republican with certain political leanings.

The sampling can be manipulated any way you like if you want to deceive.

Another way is to ask questions in a way that favors the point of view you want to convey. This may be done by asserting something that may or may not be true, such as claiming that someone is known to lie, and then asking if you’lle believe them on one issue or another.

But I will assume that the major polling organizations in the U.S. are fundamentally honest, and, while differing on sampling methodologies, do their best to perfect an imperfect process.

That takes us to a certain poll allegedly demonstrating very little interest in the next iPhone. But once you see how the question was framed, you’ll understand how the results went that way.

So let’s look at this online survey, which concluded that only 9.3% of iPhone owners in the U.S. were, in some way, considering upgrading to the so-called iPhone 7. But that depends on the question, which, in this case, was “If the iPhone isn’t redesigned in 2016, will you upgrade this year?” It’s based on a sampling of 525 people and claims that the demographics accurately represent the population at large.

For the sake of argument, I’ll assume that sampling is correct.

But just what does “redesigned” actually mean? Does it mean there will be no differences whatever? That Apple would be foolish enough to label an unchanged iPhone 6s as an iPhone 7 to fool people into buying one? If that’s the case, it’s no wonder the results are so pathetic. This is the sort of ambiguous question that conveys a misleading result. It may be that the iPhone 7 will look almost the same, but contain loads of hardware enhancements, in which case it will offer a minor or hardly visible external redesign and a major internal redesign. If that option were put before the participants, how would they react?

The closest it gets is the response to another question, in which 25.2% would upgrade if the iPhone 7 received a major redesign. Again, does that mean external? Probably. If Apple makes it look very different, while only making minor hardware changes, would that be sufficient to persuade people to buy one?

Understand that there probably won’t be a demonstration of the next iPhone until the first or second week of September, using the past as a guide. However extensive the changes might be, Apple will make it seem as if there’s a world of difference. As a result, people who might be on the fence or doubtful about upgrading now might well change their tune. Obviously, it’s hard to make plans about buying something that does not exist right now except for rumors. None of those rumors, however credible, have actually been confirmed.

So this is the sort of survey that can only be useful in a vague sense since there are so many uncertainties. But it does deliver a narrative that serves the needs of the skeptics.

Just as important, a growing number of iPhone users haven’t upgraded their gear in two or three years. This is a ripe audience for sales. To them, the differences will be vast even if they aren’t extensive compared to last year. Again, only Apple and their partners know, though it’s very likely the new models are already in production.

Clearly a lot is riding on Apple’s decisions for the next iPhone. I also suspect that at least some of the speculation suggesting a subpar upgrade may be fueled by the competition. Samsung would love for Apple to fail big time with an iPhone, hoping these customers will stay on the fence or consider a Galaxy smartphone when it comes time to upgrade. But it’s also true that Apple gains far more converts to the platform than they lose, so Samsung shouldn’t expect lightning to strike.

It’s also quite clear Apple is fully aware of customer expectations and what needs to be done to make the next iPhone a hit. That’s why I tend to disbelieve all those negative comments about a modest upgrade, that the “real” major changes will come in 2017. Even if the stories about switching to OLED displays next year are true, that doesn’t mean that the iPhone 7 won’t be worth your while.

Again, the target audience will consider what’s there to represent a major enhancement over their current smartphone, whether Apple or from someone else. Surveys in the middle of July, whether the results are accurate or misleading, won’t change that.

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One Response to “A Tricky Poll with Tricky Results”

  1. Ken C says:

    Pent up demand….hmmmm, I’m an old fogey with a still perfectly functional iPhone 4. Battery lasts most of the day on business calls, nothing is cracked even though it’s been drop tested a few..dozen times. Will I spend the $$$ for upgrade or wait a year. Darn good question. I and my wife don’t feel a compelling need at this present point in time, of course we just bought a new iMac, a iPad Pro and MacBook Pro so….we might wait a year.

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