Where Unsuccessful Products Are Successful

May 18th, 2017

I don’t want to consider the crazy developments in the world of politics, where the definition of “fake news” depends on your belief system. Instead, let’s look at the crazy developments in the tech world, where Apple is always failing or about to, and supposedly successful products really aren’t successful after all.

In yesterday’s column, I mentioned a main offender, Microsoft Surface PCs. Quarter after quarter, sales failed to grow all that much. They exceeded one billion dollars and then they dropped 26% in the March quarter.

But every time Microsoft had something new to announce, it was proclaimed potentially disastrous for Apple. Even the $2,999.99 Surface Studio, a large all-in-one PC with a touchscreen display that can lay nearly flat, didn’t help to boost sales. Well, maybe it kept them from going even lower. I mean, it’s not a bad idea, but it sort of brings to mind the complicated articulated arm of an iMac G4, though the latter wasn’t nearly as flexible in the way you could move the screen.

When Apple introduced the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, the critics dissected every element of the design. It didn’t need to be slimmer and lighter. The Touch Bar was a needless extravagance, and why doesn’t it have 32GB of RAM? Ignored was the fact that Surface notebooks also appear to top out at 16GB.

In the end, Mac sales were up, Surface sales were, as I said, down.

Then there are suggestions that Apple is behind the curve by not competing with the Amazon Echo. Not said is the fact that an iPhone may be a more flexible voice assistant, and it certainly has better security. Apple’s Messages is compatible with standard SMS protocols, so anyone with a smartphone, any smartphone, can exchange messages with you. Amazon’s proprietary messaging on the Echo works only with another Echo.

Echo sales may be as high as 11 million, which isn’t bad, until you consider it was first announced in 2014. So what Apple product do you compare it to? Even the Apple Watch has higher sales.

Now we have Samsung. Whenever there’s a new flagship Galaxy smartphone, Apple is in deep trouble. Reviewers fawn over the new gadgets, even when there are serious flaws. So consider the first attempt to attach a fingerprint sensor to one some years back, which failed to match the iPhone’s Touch ID in recognition accuracy. This doesn’t mean Apple’s solution is perfect, but Samsung’s has almost always been worse.

The Galaxy S8, just released a few weeks ago, has already been criticized for the awkward rear positioning of its fingerprint sensor. You are apt to touch the camera lens instead, causing smudges. The facial recognition can be fooled with a photo, and the iris detection feature doesn’t work so well if you wear glasses, or in darkness or bright sunlight. In other words, critical security features are undependable.

And do you remember how last year’s Galaxy smartphones, which were supposedly water-resistant, failed dunk tests? I will avoid the flaming Galaxy Note 7.

Are these products supposed to be better than iPhones?

Then there are sales. Although Apple didn’t reveal any figures for the iPhone 7’s launch weekend, they have always managed to move millions during that three-day period. Some 13 million units were sold when the iPhone 6s debuted in 2015.

Now to put things in further perspective: When a Samsung Galaxy arrives, carriers will commence heavy-duty promotion, often with two-for-one deals. So you get two handsets for the price of one. Sometimes it’s part of a deal to attract customers from other carriers, but you wonder why it happens so quickly. Doesn’t Samsung or its carrier partners have any confidence at all that their high-priced gear can sell at full price without incentives or discounts, at least for the first few weeks?

True, you can get two-for-one deals on an iPhone 7 nowadays. But it’s also eight months since it went on sale. It’s nearing the end of its initial product cycle, and customers are already waiting for Apple’s next act. So it stands to reason that carriers will want to make deals in order to peel off customers from rivals.

So with all those discounts, just how well is the Galaxy S8 and its larger brother, the Galaxy S8+, doing? Well, according to Samsung, they sold five million in the first month. Yes, it took a full month to reach that number. In comparison, the Galaxy S7 and the S7 Edge sold an estimated 7-9 million units during last year’s launch month.

Outspoken tech columnist Daniel Eran Dilger, writing in AppleInsider, reports that Galaxy smartphone sales peaked in 2013, when Samsung sold 10 million copies of the Galaxy S4. Total sales have dipped since then, even as iPhone sales mostly increased. Even when Apple reported somewhat lower sales for the iPhone 6s, they were still far higher than Samsung can manage with its flagship Galaxies. True, Samsung still sells more handsets than Apple, but most of those sales are confined to lower-cost gear, where very few profits are made. Apple continues to deliver most of the profits in the smartphone industry.

Expectations are high for the next iPhone lineup, which is rumored to include an iPhone 8 to honor the product’s 10th anniversary. If there are indeed three separate models, which would include an iPhone 7s and an iPhone 7s Plus, sales could be off the charts. Consider the alleged pause in sales of the iPhone 7 due to early rumors about the next model. Expectations are said to be high.

None of this means that Apple can grow the market every single year. Clearly they’ve hit severe headwinds in China, though the start of iPhone SE production in India may signal much higher sales potential in that country. But, when it comes to the tech industry, up is now down, and the claims that Apple isn’t doing well, or has no vision, are just more examples of fake news.

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9 Responses to “Where Unsuccessful Products Are Successful”

  1. Pool Man says:

    You’re continuing from yesterday and your point is sharper/better here. I agree that Samsung keeps getting this ‘walk’ from everyone concerned. ‘Samsung is so amazing’ and yet these fools had one of their phones banned from airline flights. WTF?!?

    Basically your entire post is more than reasonably until you offer your final thought, “But, when it comes to the tech industry, up is now down, and the claims that Apple isn’t doing well, or has no vision, are just more examples of fake news.”

    That part in bold is spin. All the words above do not discuss vision but simply success vs. competitors. Vision is an entirely different subject.

    1. Go to YouTube. Type in ‘returned my MacBook Pro’. Either there’s some conspiracy afoot or there’s a ton of people (like me) that have become aware that Apple has not only lost its vision but lost it’s slick design and reliability.

    I agree that a MacBook doesn’t need 32GBs of RAM to be a valid MacBook offering. And those Pro-whiners are quite annoying. But their basic complaint of lack of choice is valid. They don’t need a way to put smilies in texts from the keyboard. They need choice.

    And these Pro-power users are ditching.

    2. Apple is losing education. Their complete lack of vision here isn’t debatable. Between Chrome OS and looming Windows 10 S — it’s already over for Apple. A market they could have kept with reasonably priced iPads with trackpad support.

    3. Nobody but Apple and zealots care if their stores get trees and they build a giant spaceship in Cupertino. (People like me care about paying through the nose for this happen however.)

    4. I don’t mind if Apple wants a pricey $1000 iPhone. I mind that Apple lacks the vision to have held onto me. My iPhone 6 ran like lead in its second year. I didn’t do anything wrong. Apple did by chincing on storage and RAM. When I considered the 7 I considered Android for the first time. For half the price of the iPhone I could get 64GBs of storage, 6GBs of RAM, and 5.5 Amoled screen. Half the money, twice the spec. I wasn’t asking Apple to match this spec but I resented having to pay twice for half just the same. Any normal person would. My OnePlus NEVER slows down. I never use more than 4GBs of the 6GBS, whereas iPhone CONSTANTLY gummed up. And I had to do a factory reinstall 4 times a year to get rid of the famed ‘other’ folder eating what little storage Apple had the vision to offer me for $700.

    5. The last Apple product in my home is the hot mess Apple TV 4. Anyone who would be introduced to Apple via this product would NEVER buy one of their phones.

    • gene says:

      Long and short, you can find any viewpoint on YouTube. Apple explained why it didn’t have 32GB. Which Surface laptop has 32GB? As to Windows S, Apple had a Simple Finder/Mac OS years ago. That Microsoft introduces something doesn’t make it a success. Why should school systems pay more for hardware than they are now? A case can be made about Chromebooks for $150, so why spend $999 plus for an unproven Windows scheme?


  2. Pool Man says:


    “Long and short, you can find any viewpoint on YouTube.”

    Four years ago you couldn’t find people throwing their hands up with Apple’s MacBook Pros. In these numbers. Are you pretending not to know this or genuinely uninformed?

    “Apple explained why it didn’t have 32GB. Which Surface laptop has 32GB?”

    Strawman. I didn’t argue Surface as a competitor to MacBook Pro, yesterday or today. I argued that Mac faithful are upset about lack of choice.

    I was so upset I ditched Apple. And I’m not the only one.


    Please — don’t re-offer ‘you can find any opinion you want on the web’. That’s pathetic. The issue isn’t this ONE link. The issue is that more and more Mac users are waking up. Are you pretending not to know this or genuinely uninformed?

    “As to Windows S, Apple had a Simple Finder/Mac OS years ago.”

    ?!? Windows S isn’t about a Simple Finder. It’s a Chromebook OS alternative. Are you pretending not to know this or genuinely uninformed?

    “That Microsoft introduces something doesn’t make it a success.”

    Strawman. That’s not my position. My position was that the Chromebook/Win10 S will be a one two punch of affordable computing for schools closing out Apple. It’s ALREADY happening with simply Chromebook. Are you pretending not to know this or genuinely uninformed?

    ” A case can be made about Chromebooks for $150, so why spend $999 plus for an unproven Windows scheme?”

    What part of OEMs eventually offering affordable Win 10 S books don’t you get? Is it the same part where you don’t get that OEMs offer affordable Surface alternatives?

    Are you pretending not to know this or genuinely uninformed? Or are you simply this narrow-minded a Mac Zealot?

    • gene says:

      While some people complained about the new MacBook Pro, nonetheless Mac sales were up as a result of the introduction of these new models.

      With Windows S, it’s a scaled down Windows giving school systems greater control. We know that.


      • Pool Man says:

        People line up in Los Angeles for IN AND OUT Burgers. It’s the cool choice. Not the best, but the coolest. I live here, love a cheeseburger, and only go when out of town friends insist.

        Those MacBook sales, by the by, will die down. Just as Surface did. What’s happening at Windows and Android right now will take time to catch on.

        • gene says:

          Speaking of straw man argument. Sales of the Surface have never approached a fraction of Mac sales. So they died down after the introduction of the most expensive and supposedly innovative new model.

          Yes, you expect sales will die down as a product ages. What’s new and different about that?


  3. Kaleberg says:

    Apple’s problem is partly that it is successful, but also that it is basically a software company that makes money by selling hardware. If you want Mac OS seamlessly integrated with IOS, you have to buy a couple of dongles, a Mac and an iPhone. I really like the integration. I can update my contacts from an email and it is available on my laptop and my phone. I can get my text messages on my Mac where I have a real keyboard to response and all of my images live so I can use them in an email or text reply. It all fits together very nicely, and there are tons of apps.

    The thing is that the computer press is hardware oriented. They don’t “get” software, so they spend their time whining about the pea under the stack of twelve keyboards or the lack of twice as much memory as they’ll ever need for watching Youtube videos and bitching about Apple being unable to innovate. Since Apple sells software, not hardware, they complain that they can’t plug in the processor or GPU of their choice, that it is hard to interface with questionable gadgets they bought from street vendors in Shenzen, that Mac OS won’t run on their el cheapo hardware board and that Apple, unlike most vendors, seems to want to make money rather than operating a charity like Uber which provides venture capital subsidized rides to well off and tourists commuters.

    I really appreciate Apple’s innovation and their commitment to privacy, even if it is only based on their business model not requiring that they generate revenue by selling my data. Their interests and mine align. I know that Google provides a lot of the same services that I really enjoy, but they have to sell my data to make a living. Apple seems to scrape by selling me hardware dongles for using their software, and they’re pretty great dongles.

    • Agreed. Our Windows switcher could only think of the hardware and imagined Windows must be almost as good as macOS, a theory that dates back to Windows 95.


  4. dfs says:

    I think Kaleberg has it exactly right. Just making head-to-head comparisons of this Mac product with that competing one doesn’t tell the whole story, or justify purchasing the one or the other. You also have to consider the quality, reliability and versatility of the entire ecosystems into which these individual products are going to function. If you insist on going the Android route, for example, it’s a whole lot smarter to buy an Android phone because you have examined their ecosystem and decided that it is preferable than to buy the phone because you happen to like it and then discover you’ve opted into their ecosystem like it or not.

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