Margin of error: How the Surface tops the iPad


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In baseball, it doesn’t matter if you win by 14 runs or just one. A win is a win. Technology, however, is not exactly the same.

Writing for CNBC, Todd Haselton declares “It's official: People like Microsoft's tablets better than the iPad.” (Tip o’ the antlers to Chris Domico.)

You might remember Todd from such hits as musing whether or not the Apple Watch was already doomed six months before it was released and declaring the Galaxy Note 7 “miles ahead” of the iPhone 7 a month before the iPhone 7 was announced.

Huh. Wonder how that turned out?

Anyway, just know that when Todd says something is official… well… that’s a thing that has happened. The saying, the Macalope means. Not anything being official necessarily.

Todd details how much consumers prefer the Surface over the iPad for internet connectivity, accessories, pre-installed applications and the soothing hum of a fan (well, presumably). What he doesn’t detail is J.D. Power’s footnote:

Rankings are based on numerical scores, and not necessarily on statistical significance.

That may explain how, as Neil Cybart noticed, the spread between the score of the top-rated Surface and that of the bottom tablet on the list is less than 5 percent on J.D. Power’s 1,000-point scale. Yet, somehow a 5 percent difference earned the Surface five J.D. POWER CIRCLES (they don't capitalize them but what's the point of having POWER CIRCLES and not capitalizing them?) and the bottom tablet just two.

And the spread between the Suface and the iPad? Less than 1 percent. Yet, that’s enough to dock the iPad a POWER CIRCLE as it gets just four. This is like those charts that cut off the bottom half of the bars to create the illusion of a dramatic difference. Actually, it’s not “like” those charts, it literally is one because J.D. Power cuts off the bottom 600 and top 100 points on their chart in their press release.

Somewhere Edward Tufte suddenly felt sad and began to cry, though he did not know why.

The results presented are pretty confusing. The study average is supposedly 841, but that’s not what you get when you add up the scores of the seven companies and divide by seven. Also, the difference between 5-POWER CIRCLE Microsoft and 4-POWER CIRCLE Apple is 6 points out of 1,000 but the difference between 3-POWER CIRCLE Amazon and 2-POWER CIRCLE Acer is 20 points.

Maybe J.D. Power’s results have always been a confusing bouillabaisse and we only noticed when the results didn’t fit our preconceptions. That’s a fair knock, although the Macalope has never been a fan of these surveys, which often seem more designed to promote the company doing the survey than anything else. Still, congratulations to Microsoft on its win. However, when all the tablets got what equates to either a B or a B- and the survey company doesn't give a margin of error, it's not like the season is over.

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