The Macalope Weekly: Telling

Some things are obvious. For example, everything is about Apple. Or, well, it is if you want to sell newspapers, apparently. Certain words are also telling, like the F-word. No, not that one, the other one. The worse one. Yeah, that one. Finally, what is not at all telling are confusing charts.

APPLE, APPLE, APPLE

Everything Is About Apple, Exhibit The Infinty:

Writing for the New York Times, Catherine Rampell says “Why Apple Wants To Bust Your iPhone” (tip o’ the antlers to Kevin P.).

Well, that was the headline until the Times walked it back to this:

“Cracking the Apple Trap”

This is an article so bad that even Gizmodo rebuked it. You live long enough, you see everything.

At first, I thought it was my imagination. Around the time the iPhone 5S and 5C were released, in September, I noticed that my sad old iPhone 4 was becoming a lot more sluggish.

A three-year-old smartphone is sluggish? How did this not make the front page?!

Apple phone batteries, which have a finite number of charges in them to begin with, were drained by the new software.

Has this been proven? The Macalope has iOS 7 on an iPhone 4 and, yes, it’s slow like you’d expect a recent release to be on three-year-old hardware, but your battery may not be holding a charge because, you know, it’s three years old.

You know what they call a three-year-old Android phone? Landfill.

It seemed like Apple was sending me a not-so-subtle message to upgrade.

Wouldn’t it be great if technology stopped for a while and let us all catch our breath, you guys? [sigh]

… this isn’t the first time that tech analysts and random crazies on the Internet have noted that breakdowns in older Apple products can often coincide with when upgrades come onto the market.

I AM NEW TO YOUR TECK-KNOW-LOW-GEE AND FIND IT CONFUSING.

Many have taken this as evidence of “planned obsolescence,” …

“Many.”

To conspiracy-theory-hungry observers (and some of the rest of us) …

Have you considered that those two Venn diagram circles might be perfectly concentric?

… it might make sense that Apple would employ this business strategy. … If iPhones work forever, people who already own the devices won’t buy new ones.

True story: The Macalope still has his first-generation 4GB iPhone. It still works. No, the battery doesn’t hold much of a charge and, yes, it runs a little slowly. But it works. The main reason people upgrade is for new features.

It’s odd that an article “rediscovering” the concept of planned obsolescence would be about Apple, as its phones have a far longer shelf life and a far higher resale value than any of its competitors’ phones. The fact that it’s about Apple says more about the Times’s business model than it does about Apple’s.

An obvious tell

Is the F-word the most obvious tell in Apple coverage? It’s gotta be.

The Boy Genius [sic] Report’s Zach Epstein asks “How far can fanboys carry Apple?” (no link).

This would be the same Zach Epstein who said “Sorry Apple, Windows 8 ushers in the post-post-PC era.”

The horny one wouldn’t call Epstein a Microsoft fanboi (partly because he has too much taste to use that term in anything other than an ironic fashion), but that piece is so over-the-top sugary about Windows 8 that the furry one’s fillings were sore for a week after reading it.

On to Mr. Epstein’s newest opus:

Apple reported its results for the fiscal fourth quarter on Monday and it has been on something of a roller coaster ride since then. Shares fell 4% … Shares climbed back into the black on Tuesday morning …

Stock prices fluctuate! You heard it on BGR first!

But where the next few quarters are concerned, several important questions are now being raised.

And if there’s one thing we know it’s that Apple has never before faced important questions.

With Apple’s iPhone launches and iPad unveiling behind us and nothing new and exciting on the horizon until the second half of 2014 according to rumors …

We know nothing about the veracity of these rumors, but let’s just assume they’re right.

… some analysts are worried that sales may fall faster than expected in the coming months.

Reaaaaaally. Some analysts are expecting sales of Apple devices to fall after the company just introduced new phones and tablets. Oookay.

Yes, Sector & Sovereign Research’s Paul Sagawa says:

… that the falloff following Apple’s huge holiday quarter could end up being substantial as the “fanboys” that drive huge sales in Apple’s December quarter find themselves with nothing left to buy.

You know, fanbois like teachers and parents and doctors and other professionals and kids and … well, millions and millions of fanbois. Like more than 50 million iPhone fanbois and more than 30 million iPad fanbois. Those kinds of fanbois.

“By January, many of the Apple fanboys will already have their iPhone 5Ss and iPad Airs, and demand will hinge on new customers with less invested in the Apple brand and minds open to the raft of new Android powered products likely to hit the shelves,” the analyst opined.

Because Apple has never faced competition from Android devices before.

“Bulls will prostelytize [sic] about cash flows and valuation, but history has given us a clear example of a wildly profitable and cash rich company that struggled with growth – see Microsoft, circa 2003.”

Because, as we all know, Apple will never ship another hit product ever again.

Well, it’s possible. But on Monday’s conference call, Tim Cook as much as said that remaking markets is in Apple’s DNA, so it doesn’t seem likely. And the Macalope needs to hear it from someone not dropping F-bombs before he’ll take it seriously.

Not so good with the charts

This week, the Apple community was left scratching its collective head and then doing righteous shots of bourbon in indignation as J.D. Power handed the top honors in U.S. customer satisfaction for tablets to Samsung.

Congratulations to Samsung on its win.

So, why the head-scratching and binge-drinking? Well, as Jim Dalrymple points out, when you look at the accompanying chart, the iPad won in every sub-category except for cost. Oh, so cost must be weighted higher. No, actually, it turns out cost is weighted lower than every other category.

Duh?

Dalrymple says:

I think J.D. Power has some explaining to do.

This much is certain, because the charts are of no help at all. In fact, they’re probably the cause of the confusion. Somewhere, Edward Tufte is punching a kitten, although he does not know why. Commenters speculate that J.D. Power’s dot chart is like a bar chart with the bottom of the vertical axis left off, with different scales for each category. Or something.

Whatever it is, it doesn’t really matter. It’s unlikely that a well-respected firm like J.D. Power is either a) on the take from Samsung or b) screwing the math up. It is surprising that its charts are so confusing, considering that it must have expected this would be met with some surprise from Apple quarters, but whatever the company’s methods are, the Macalope believes that this is an actual win for Samsung.

And how did Samsung win? By making its tablets cheap. So cheap that cost outweighs all other factors, even when weighted lower. That’s a pretty powerful competitive advantage. Samsung tablet owners are effectively saying, “Look, this thing is clearly not as good as the iPad but they were almost literally giving them away, so what was I going to do?”

Which is exactly what the Macalope has been noting about the tablet market for months. Apple cornered the market by being first to make an awesome tablet experience. The only way Samsung, Amazon, Google, and others were able to sell tablets at all was by making them cheap, cheap, cheap. Amazon and Google may even be selling theirs roughly at cost in the hopes of making money through software, media, and services.

That’s not how Apple makes money. That’s not how Apple sells devices.

Long story short, if you’re going to set up a method of valuing devices that takes into account a basket of features and allows a manufacturer to win by losing on every category but one, then this is going to happen. That’s not how the Macalope buys a tablet, but some people probably do.

Are iPads too expensive, then? Ask consumers who are buying new iPad Airs this weekend. This furry customer says no.

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