The Macalope Weekly: Small sample sizes


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If there were one useless tool of the silly technology pundit that the Macalope could smite with his mighty horns … well, there isn’t just one. But making mountains out of the molehills of small or specious data sets would at least be in the top ten. (Top ten lists would be another.)

It’s not good data, but it’s our not good data

The anecdotal evidence is in and Apple ruled Christmas!

Woo-hoo! High five, everyone! Good work!

Yes, according to some highly scientific data points collected this week (actual science not included), Apple Stores were jam packed while Microsoft Stores were barren wastelands, and iPad sales beat sales of competing devices 5 to 1!

Well, that seals it, then. Nothing else to see here; we’ll just wait for the good news when Apple reports its quarterly numbers next month.

Move along. You can just skip to the next section.

Go on.

Oh, fine.

“Christmas Eve at the Apple, Microsoft and Sony stores”

Mmm, Philip Elmer-DeWitt, that would more accurately be “Christmas Eve at an Apple Store, a Microsoft Store and a Sony store.” A Fortune reader sent in pictures from all three stores in his local mall, which show the Apple Store hopping and the other two where-not-a-creature-was-stirring, not even the mouse you could totally use with your Surface for a no-compromises user experience, bro.

This isn’t exactly the first time someone’s noticed this. Heck, on the Surface launch day there were more people in the Apple Store at the mall the Macalope went to. It certainly seems true that Microsoft Stores simply don’t generate the kind of foot traffic Apple Stores do and, therefore, can’t be generating the same kind of sales. But these pictures of individual stores on certain days at certain times is just anecdotal. They don’t really prove anything, but they sure do make us feel good.

Likewise this chart, put together by A.X. Ian, who comments on his methodology here (tip o’ the antlers to Daring Fireball). Ian pulled “First Tweet from my…” tweets over a 24-hour period, finding 1795 for the iPad, 250 for the Amazon Kindle, 100 for the Google Nexus, and 36 for the Microsoft Surface.

Apple wins the contest dripping with self-selection bias! Yay!

None of this is to say that these anecdotal data points aren’t a little interesting, and they could be indicative of how Apple’s holiday went (IT WAS AWESOME). But the Macalope can’t in good conscience lambast people for using anecdotes to claim Apple’s sliding into oblivion and then laud people for using anecdotes to claim Apple is crushing its enemies.

A handful of anecdotes don’t necessarily mean anything. But it’s OK! As long as we all hold the spirit of Apple having had a good Christmas in our hearts … then Apple will have had a good Christmas.

Actually, no, that doesn’t mean anything, either. Sorry, the Macalope doesn’t know what he was thinking there.

9 out of 10 sockpuppets agree!

But, wait! Other anecdotal evidence is also in, proving the Surface is the bestest tablet EVAAAAAAAH!

“Microsoft Surface RT Best Tablet Ever, ‘Reviewers’ Gush” (tip o’ the antlers to Jim Miles)

Who are these “reviewers” that Information Week’s Paul McDougall trusts so much he has to put them in quotes?

Forget for a moment that it won’t run Windows applications, starts at $200 more than Kindle Fire HD and doesn’t have a Facebook app. The consensus among those who purchased Microsoft’s Windows 8 tablet from Best Buy is that it is pretty much the best computing device in history.

Well, that explains why the Microsoft Stores were empty. All the Surface action was going on over at Best Buy.

You can forgive the Best Buy reviewers for their lack of nuance. Of those who critiqued Surface RT, the vast majority had previously never reviewed any other products, and most never had a Best Buy user’s profile until last week, when Surface first went on sale at the store (mousing over a reviewer’s handle provides this info).

Yes, Best Buy shoppers who took the trouble to log into Best Buy’s website to create brand new profiles after the Surface’s launch just loooove their new Surfaces (man, that plural always sounds wrong). Well, it doesn’t get any more concrete than that, and there’s nothing at all fishy about it!

“Coty 09,” whose activity on the Best Buy site dates back as far as Monday, had this to say: “The Surface RT is a great product that is easy to use and is built very well. This will be great for work, school and play.” Who talks that way? Marketing people, according to The Consumerist’s list of “30 Ways You Can Spot Fake Online Reviews.”

Paul! Please! Are you accusing Microsoft of sockpuppetry?! Microsoft would never engage in such shenanigans!

In addition to Best Buy, Surface RT is also available at Staples. Staples customer reviewers—all four of them—appeared equally impressed with the device.

Not Staples! The Macalope buys his staples there! HOW DEEP DOES THIS GO?

Four reviews after almost a week of availability suggests Staples isn’t likely to sell out of Surface RT any time soon, but at least those who bought appear to like it.

Or they like being paid to pretend to like it. Which is almost the same thing.

Saving the best for last

Speaking of small sample sizes, how about a sample size of one?

Writing for Forbes, Patrick Moorhead tells us “Why I am Leaving the iPhone” (no link, and the Macalope thinks you’ll agree).

And here you thought you’d get through the end of the year without another self-important Dear John letter to Apple. You are soooo naive.

I am strongly considering leaving the iPhone in favor of either Android or Windows Phone and I want to tell you why.

Wait, what? “Considering”? Dude, are you not familiar with the use of the definitive conjugation “I am leaving”?

With Android’s “Butter” introduced at this year’s Google I/O, the feel is nearly as good as iOS.

Android: Nearly As Good As iOS!

The bulk of Moorhead’s reasons for “considering” leaving are fine. He has a set of personal use cases that might be better suited to other devices and has decided that the Android user experience has reached “good enough” status. Well, good luck to you, sir. Godspeed. Personally, the Macalope doesn’t think the user experience—which you experience every time you use the phone (hence the name)—is the place to be compromising. But Moorhead’s a big boy who can make his own decisions.

Or can he?

First of all, I have not decided 100% to leave my iPhone.

Arrrgh! Did you actually read the title of this piece, Patrick? Or is there some evil copyeditor of doom working for Forbes?

(Note the Macalope is perfectly willing to believe there actually is an evil copyeditor of doom working for Forbes. It actually explains a lot.)

But it turns out this sample size is actually less than one! Or, rather, it’s Schrödinger’s sample size! Does it exist? It’s impossible to say! The title says it exists, but the column says otherwise!

As a tech analyst, I will be separating my personal experiences and what I think the homogeneous consumer “market” will think as I am not a typical consumer.

Terrific. But, then, why is this supposed to be interesting?

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