Apple propaganda -- spinning failure as success

Apple only sold 3.95 million Mac computers during the whole of the last quarter year!

This is clearly a disappointing result for the Apple, but you wouldn't think so if you saw the way it was reported by certain tech bloggers and certain sections of the press.  It's like Orwellian double-speak.

The real headline is here, and a noteworthy fact, is that Apple sold less than 4 million Macs. (To put this into perspective, last time I checked, during Q4 2010, 100 million PCs were sold in that same period -- and bear in mind that PC sales are currently going through a slump, as the Apple camp keeps pointing out, even though this was actually a modest 3.1% increase year-on-year.) But Apple's propaganda machine and loyal fan communities have spun this bad news story into a success story for iPad, by aggregating iOS sales (iPhone + iPad) and comparing the resulting statistics to PC sales. This is a blatantly phoney comparison, because of course people get new phones much more often than they get new PCs.

Supposedly independent commentators like Forbes blogger Brian Caulfield reported the story under the title: "Apple Now Selling More iPads Than Macs; iOS Eclipses Dell And HP's PC Businesses". I submitted a comment challenging the spin in Caulfield's article, but alas it was never approved. When blog writers moderate their own comments, this can obviously jeopardise balanced discussion.) Caulfield's blogging seems dominated by Apple stories -- even the most mundane Apple gossip doesn't escape this man. Apple's lengthy white iPhone saga succeeded in creating headlines about the brand when in reality there was no news and nothing definite to report. (I take a closer look at Caulfield in my comments, below.) More generally, Forbes seems obsessed with cool and trendy stories about Apple/Google, reporting any available trivia, while important news and major developments in the tech sector relating to other companies -- most conspicuously Microsoft -- is all too often overlooked.

On Business Insider, Jay Yarrow boosted the hysteria to even higher levels. Under the headline, "Mind-Melting Facts About Apple's June Quarter", he was almost frothing at the mouth: "Apple is like one of those amazing sports teams just racking up win after win, crushing the competition!" Perhaps Jay didn't read the part about less than 4 million Macs being sold -- for whatever reason, he didn't mention the bad news and was clearly only interested in writing another good-news story about Apple. If we sober-up and return to reality, of course, Apple is not "crushing the competition". Android is beating iOS sales by a huge margin. In fact, Android overtook iPhone last year not that long after Android was launched. iPad sales recently dipped and represent a tiny scratch on the surface of PC sales. Even if we combine iPad and Mac desktop computer sales, the figures are utterly eclipsed by PC sales.

The pro-Apple bias of major news outlets is well-documented. I sometimes tweet about the Apple slant at The Guardian, a major newspaper in the UK, with particular attention to the news agenda set by, and articles written by, Charles Arthur their Technology Editor -- both online and in print. The astonishing pro-Apple and anti-Microsoft bias at the New York Times and other major news outlets has been called out, before too. It's a shame, because it means people are not getting a complete and balanced information about the all important tech industry.

All of this makes me want to look more closely at the relationship between Apple and their loyal commentators out in the field. For example, I wonder how Apple chooses which commentators get exclusive leaks and other stories. Presumably it's in the interests of any tech commentator to sing to Apple's tune, and by the same token could be less beneficial to their career if they failed to serve as a conduit for Apple propaganda.

No matter how much certain commentators prophesise the doom of PC sales, and no matter how much that want to believe it, saying something repeatedly doesn't make it true. PCs are still being sold, despite occasional and seasonal dips. Intel, the biggest maker of microchips for PCs, is basking in the glory of continued growth and geared-up for a 10% increase in sales this year -- a fundamental marker for the health of the PC market. And that's despite inroads being made by rival chip makers in Intel's core markets. And Windows 7 has sold over 700 million licenses and counting, making it the fastest-selling operating system of any kind of all time -- by a vast margin. So much for the "post-PC" era  -- a meaningless official Apple propaganda term again evocative of Orwellian double-speak.

If you're finding yourself impressed by how well Apple seems to be doing, it might be worth taking a step back and seeing through the hype and spin that always surround Apple.

If you're looking for a tech industry success story to cheer you up, I reccomend reading Microsoft's financial results published today, which show very impressive earnings, revenues, profits and growth -- exceeeding and far surpassing expectations. Enjoy! :)

21 July 2011

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Tim Acheson (21 Jul 11, 12:50)

SPOTLIGHT: Brian Caulfield and his role in the ridiculous epic white iPhone saga -- keeping Apple products in the news, even when there is no news...

Caulfield was a willing participant in the "white iPhone" rumour mill, predicting and raving about the mythological device last year and again all this year so far (28 April, on 25 April, on 13 April, 5 April, on 24 Jan, etc.) Brian -- for pity's sake, it's the same phone, just painted white. Other phones are readily available in diverse varieties of colour and morphology. Predictions about the "white iPhone" rumours emerged in waves, indicating a degree of central coordination of the flow of information that would be consistent with a corporate PR operation. The drip-feed of information and delays is also a common PR strategy for trying to keep a brand in the news.

Meanwhile, amid multiple headlines about Apple painting some iPhones white, Caulfield has written no headlines about Windows Phone 7 or any WP7 handset (these are available in a full spectrum of colours, by the way), no headlines mentioning Xbox 360 or Windows 7 tablets, etc.

Caulfield's interests and role at Forbes are somewhat ambiguous. The strapline beneath his name on blogs.forbes.com is simply "shiny objects" and his bio holds no clues alluding to his very special interest in Apple.

Brian Caulfield (21 Jul 11, 22:08)

Feedback is always welcome, whether as comments on Forbes itself or on blogs such as this one.

One point, however: I don't get to approve which comments are posted on my article. I can "call out" or highlight comments that I feel are particularly relevant (caveat I can delete spam messages, or comments that are just uncivil -- such as stuff that uses ethnic slurs -- but I find I have to do that only very very very rarely).

If your comments didn't show up, that's out of my hands, perhaps there was a technical problem? If so, feel free to post your comments again.

As far as my heavy Apple coverage, I approach my work with a bit of an old-school beat mentality. I was assigned the Apple beat a number of years ago, so I try to cover that company dutifully.

I cover companies that aren't assigned to me, such as Microsoft, far less regularly -- such as when a colleague has gone on vacation.

As for the white iPhone, I've approached that topic as an opportunity for some levity. As a business reporter, I've got to respect the numbers Apple posts every quarter, but Apple can also be a source of fun on occasion. I've felt the white iPhone saga has been one such opportunity.

Hope this helps.

Brian Caulfield (21 Jul 11, 22:25)

Me again. Checked the 'spam' folder. Your comments are in there. I don't regard them as spam, so I'm going to remove them from the spam folder so they will be published. I don't typically check the spam folder, the system generally works quite well, but if your stuff isn't appearing on the site send me an email and I'll take a look there.

Best,

Brian

Tim Acheson (22 Jul 11, 09:49)

Hi Brian, thanks for responding! Ok, you could debunk my "suppressed comments" conspiracy-theory here, if my comments do ever show-up. Thanks for undeleting my comments -- I can see my comment now, but sadly still nobody else can; there's a message saying: "Your comment is awaiting moderation.". Fingers Xd. It's interesting to hear the background behind your special interest in Apple, thanks for sharing that! The white iPhone saga certainly was entertaining, I'm almost sorry that it's over. With 7 major colours in the rainbow and about 4million colours distinguishable by the human eye, there's good potential for more of the same -- perhaps the "slightly grey" iPhone will be next... ;)


I come here to cheer myself up. For someone deeply immersed in the Windows world, you sure do spend a lot of time nit-picking in the Apple blogosphere and spinning it your way.
Regarding the numbers of Macs sold. Do you consider it remarkable that Apple, alone amongst manufacturers, has had 22 quarters of yr on yr growth? That Apple generates 65% of all the profits in the PC industry? That, HP is quitting the PC business having named the iPad as a contributory factor in that decision. That MS considers tablets to be PCs and therefore Apple's share of the PC market is far higher than the figure you quote?(and the figures I've seen do NOT include IOS devices as a whole). Do you also not find the fact that Apple is now thirteen times the value of Dell whose leader famously advised Apple to close down and return the money to the shareholders, a staggering reversal of fortunes? Or that Acer's core business - notebooks, is suffering so badly from tablet 'fever'(their words), such that they have just recorded their first quarterly loss and expect to make a loss for the year?
Maybe I'm missing something?


Hi Frac, yes your comment is indeed "missing something" and I'll try to highlight some examples in case it helps.

"you sure do spend a lot of time nit-picking in the Apple blogosphere" Are you sure? I don't really post on blogs about Apple at all, maybe a few times in my life.

"Regarding the numbers of Macs sold. Do you consider it remarkable..." I find much of what Apple does impressive and remarkable, not least because the company recovered so well from what looked like a dead-end. That doesn't alter the fact that Apple hardly sells any Macs - their flagship PC product is dying out. We're entering the post-Mac era. I suspect this is at least partly what Jobs alludes to when he refers to the "post-PC" era.

"HP is quitting the PC business..." It's still not clear what HP is doing, despite varioius reports, but as widely reported they're sending "mixed messages". They tried to enter the tablet and phone marketplaces, but it went very badly, and now they need to regroup and may focus on software. HP execs are talking about spinning-off not closing the PC business, and it sounds like a positive thing for their PC business not at all negative. In fact, HP execs are expressing great excitement about a plan to effectively create a $40bn startup focused on PCs.

"That MS considers tablets to be PCs and therefore Apple's share of the PC market..." Apple considers tablets PCs, but that doesn't mean iPad is a PC -- you need to appreciate that this position is a criticism of iOS and Android which are very basic netbook/phone OSs installed on very expensive hardware. iPad and Android tablets are essentially basic netbooks but with no keyboard and a huge price tag. The BUILD event is imminent, so you will soon see exactly what they mean -- with Windows 8...

The bottom line is, the story has barely even begun yet. The game really starts when the first Windows 8 tablet PCs go on sale. Let's take a look back on things just over a year from now. :)


Hi Tim
Thanks for the reply.

'That doesn't alter the fact that Apple hardly sells any Macs '
I'm not sure what this has to do with Apple and successful business. Would you write off say BMW, Mercedes or Lexus who only sell a fraction of the total worldwide car sales? Or Cessna selling only a handful of aircraft in the aviation world? To suggest that these are not successful companies because their sales are small compared to the overall market, would seem to be 'spin' of contrarian proportions at best or even deliberate obtuseness. Your argument begs the question as to why you conflate one company's success in the overall market and failure to dominate, in one sentence? The first being true is not negated by the other. Were it so, there would be no basis for any market competition - in any industry.

Interesting link regarding HP's possible plans for it's PSG unit. I think this one falls under the banner of 'Lets run this one up the flagpole and see who salutes'. I or anybody else can only respond to what we do know - the rest is wishful thinking.

' "That MS considers tablets to be PCs and therefore Apple's share of the PC market..." Apple considers tablets PCs, but that doesn't mean iPad is a PC -- you need to appreciate that this position is a criticism of iOS and Android which are very basic netbook/phone OSs installed on very expensive hardware. iPad and Android tablets are essentially basic netbooks but with no keyboard and a huge price tag. The BUILD event is imminent, so you will soon see exactly what they mean -- with Windows 8...'
Hmmmn. As I recall, Steve Ballmer said tablets were PCs, whereas Steve Jobs said the iPad was a 'postPC device'. Now if what you are saying is that the iPad is not a proper 'tablet' as envisaged by Steve Ballmer...well that remains to be seen, if and when a Windows 8 machine comes to market. Regarding 'huge price tag' - that's relative. All the other similar form tablets are similarly priced or more expensive. If you are saying that the price premium is not justified in your opinion then ok. Tens of millions think otherwise. I'm absolutely sure that Metro UI tablets will not only be unable to appreciably undercut the iPad but that to do so would be a wilful bad business decision in a market set by the iPad. Like it or not, the segment price is pretty much set, if functionality and quality is to be maintained. Also, at BUILD, http://www.slashgear.com/windows-8-on-arm-wont-run-x86-apps-microsoft-admits-16180415/ Sinofsky himself seems to be saying that ARM tablets with Metro will be no different from the iPad in concept ie no legacy apps, cut down UI, reduced functionality(compared with the full Windows 8 desktop/tablet form factor) and have a separate app store. This would seem to legitimise the overall concept of the iPad in that a basic netbook/phone OS with instant startup, touch interface and battery sipping operation is only possible because it is ARM powered.
As you say, let's give it a year or so, then decide. I think it's not really useful to call out one company over another when it's fairly obvious that both OSs are converging in line with current and possible future technology developments.


Frac, I get that you love Apple. Their Mac products aren't selling very many, they're utterly eclipsed by PCs, and you can make of that what you will. But those who claim we're already in a "post-PC era" (an official Apple propaganda term) should take a look at PC sales, and compare with the tiny size of Mac sales, because if that's what a post-PC era then the Mac era must never even have existed.

But yes, let's revisit this in a year or so.


Tim, I get that you love Microsoft - blindly so, it would seem regarding Microsoft's 'impressive earnings, revenues, profits and growth'
From your post...
"Personally, I try to look at Microsoft as a whole as well as scrutinising individual areas, and from this vantage point the whole package looks very healthy indeed."

By what measure would you rate WP7 sales and market share, a success? perhaps it's the post-WP era, cos' let's face it, they sell so few of them.
How does a small bump in earnings by the Online Services division whilst losing $788m for the quarter, equate with 'very healthy indeed'? $2.5 billion lost in a year. I don't see any evidence of looking at Microsoft as a whole or much scrutiny of individual areas. Par for the coarse I suppose from your vantage point.
Must you dissemble so?


Hi frac -- no my appeciation of certain MS products can't really be described as "blind" when I use the products myself and also use rival products. :)

Tim Acheson (07 Feb 12, 14:11)

Related: The Apple fanboy problem

"Apple fanboys have a reputation for hostile attacks based on suggestion, and it’s harming Apple’s image. ... Apple “fanboys” have gained a negative reputation as a hostile entity. The vitriolic fanboy mob mentality has made online discussions about Apple difficult to keep civil, and has created an environment of increasingly shocking and disturbing hostility. ... it’s damaging Apple’s reputation. ... This week, “king of the fanboys” John Gruber and Apple evangelist Shawn King were instrumental to an online witch hunt that eventually included threats of violence toward a female blogger. ..."
Tim Acheson (17 Oct 12, 09:10)

Here's another classic example from the Technology section of The Guardian. These web pages, overseen by notorious Apple fanboy Charles Arthur, are infamous for exhibiting comical levels of bias toward Apple and their pathological obsession with this one tech corporation's products and services.

When Charles Arthur reported yesterday's big Microsoft Surface announcement, he spin it into an article more about iPad than anything else, and indeed no other alternative tablets were mentioned. A deluge of comments from users (almost all of which were deleted by moderators before I had a chance to capture them) rightly point out the bias in the article, and much of the commenting does mention non-Apple alternatives overlooked by The Guardian. Such prolific critical commenting is perhaps symptomatic of an Apple-centric publication that is out of touch with readers.

One comment (deleted by moderators) clearly demonstrated the point by counting usages of the relavent words. In this article supposedly about the Surface, iPad was mentioned 9 times in the article compared with only 6 mentions of Surface, and Apple was mentioned 6 times with 8 mentions of Microsoft. There was no mention of Android or any Android tablet, no mention of Amazon's Kindle -- indicating an undue obsession with Apple. Readers of this article could be forgiven for concluding that the iPad is the only other tablet in existence, and that seems to reflect the perspective of the author.

Comment examples:

  • Good job on managing to shoehorn as many Apple references in as possible - will get the clicks coming in nicely.

    Waiting for a surface for Windows 8 Pro, which should be even better. I'm sure this article will be buried in no time under iPad mini advertorials
    - FossilFuels
  • Surface is the tablet PC that many of us have been waiting for. It's a lot more useful than an iPad. Despite the reasonable price, it's still much more economical to buy a laptop -- but Surface is more exciting than a laptop.

    It seems odd that iPad is the only other tablet mentioned in this Apple-focussed article.
    - timacheson
  • An article about Microsoft Surface?

    Number of mentions:

    'Microsoft': 8
    'Apple': 6

    'Surface': 6
    'iPad': 9

    hmmm
    - DerrickMalone
  • I see Charles, or whoever the moderator is, is continuing to delete the posts of anyone who dares to point out the obvious bias of mentioning the iPad more times in an article that is supposed to be about the Surface.

    And there I was thinking The Guardian was a purveyor of free speech.

    - Restart

POSTSCRIPT: I posted a comment highlighting the deleted comments, referring to evidence from my browser caches, and drawing special attention to DerekMalone's comment with the word counts -- his comment now appears to have been reenstated. I pointed out that it cannot be considered objectionable because it doesn't even make any points, merely stating obvious facts and leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions. My comment expressing disappointment with all the deleted comments was deleted though -- oddly without the usual message to show that it was deleted.

Tim Acheson (17 Oct 12, 12:52)

... continued from my previous comment, a few more examples of typical comments on Charles Arthur's article:

Dear moderators,

Seeing as you removed my first comment and then simply deleted the second for pointing out that the article about Surface mentions Apple & iPad more than Microsoft and Surface, which of your terms and conditions does this breach? Point 2 of your community standards states:

2. We acknowledge criticism of the articles we publish

Feel free to delete this post as well. While you're at it, delete my account too - cheers

- ChrisM2006

It's noteworthy that on an iPad Mini article posted the same day ( www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/oct/16/ipad-mini-23-october ) there are not many comments on the page -- not even more than a page of comments yet, a day later.

On the article about prices for Microsoft's Surface the same day we already have four pages of comments so far and rising fast.

Ironically, two comments on the Surface article, posted a few seconds after the article went live, presumably by Apple fanboys, suggested that there were not many comments and implied that this reflected the level of interest in Surface. Would they apply the same logic to this page and the iPad Mini?

Tim Acheson (24 Oct 12, 11:24)

iPad Mini launch event
Small-print disclaimer:
"Charles Arthur's travel and accommodation was paid by Apple"

It's called embedded journalism. Governments use the same strategy for propaganda in times of war, like the journalists who get to travel in Air Force 1.

Apple give their most loyal journalists perks -- e.g. free flights and accommodation, on top of career-making exclusive tickets to events like this. It's doubtful that the end result is purely objective journalism.

Charles Arthur has worked hard to tow the line for Apple at his publication -- the technology section of the world's most popular online newspaper. Apple certainly selects influential people to make special friendships with.

Tim Acheson (19 Jun 13, 10:53)

Related: flame war between editors of The Verge and The Loop

Apple marketing planted in tech news in return for sponsorship and other incentives is nothing new. I've been documenting this phenomenon for over a decade. The war between Apple+Google (sharing board members) and Microsoft was much more bitter. Yet flame wars like this between tech websites are rare -- almost unprecedented. Usually it's just innuendo about a rival site or commentator. Perhaps the sums of money involved these days are higher -- Apple has plenty of cash to splash. That could explain why tempers are fraying. I've been expecting it to boil over like this for years.

Pass the popcorn!

Tim Acheson (03 Dec 14, 12:00)

L.A. school district halts iPad contract as FBI seizes documents

"The L.A. School District's plan to equip all students with $500 million worth of iPads and software has officially ended in a cloud of suspicion, according to the LA Times. Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines said it would terminate the original contract following a raid on district offices by the FBI, which seized 20 boxes of documents related to the matter. The project -- which originally used Apple's tablets and Pearson educational software exclusively -- quickly unraveled after ties between then-superintendent John Deasy and Pearson and Apple executives were revealed. The program also suffered from technical problems, as students easily found workarounds to the built-in security and hacked the iPads to play games and use social networks."
Tim Acheson (03 Dec 14, 12:42)

Continued...

I strongly suspected corruption behind this and several other headline-grabbing iPad deals.

I wrote an open letter a year ago warning those involved to cancel the contract before it was too late, to avoid criminal prosecution in what was blatantly an extremely suspicious arrangement.

I told you so at the time -- and the FBI has now frozen the deal and seized records.

Also, see my comments on ZDNet at the time.

And the L.A. iPad scandal is the tip of the iceberg. There have been numerous high-profile deals involving public institutions including schools and government departments, in the US, the UK, and elsewhere, wasting vast sums of public money, and often involving the same people or their contacts. Apple brought this on themselves because the corporation's PR people could not resist publicizing and hyping these deals to hype the product and create the perception of widespread adoption by major organisations. E.g. the BBC, the Manchester iPad scandal, here's more about Manchester Council. Leicester City Council, and here's more on the Leicester scandal, those dustbin men in Bury, yes, I said bin men, Shropshire Council, Hull Councill, North Somerset Council, Brent Council, Harrow Council, etc, etc, etc. Backhander, anyone? Let's have some police scrutiny of these deals, please.

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