In Technology, Seeing is Often NOT Believing
Apple’s iPhone 8 sales should leave a lot of us red-faced
They were supposed to be the phones whose only role as perceived by many worthies was to be more affordable alternatives to the iPhone X. “That’s why they were not even given enough time in the presentation,” we were told, about the iPhone 8 and the 8 Plus. And after their release, there was widespread coverage of the fact that people did not seem to have queued up for them with the sort of enthusiasm that they normally kept for a new iPhone. The overall perception in a lot of the tech fraternity (including a fair number in our own team) was that the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus were just updates that would appeal to a limited number of the Apple faithful who would really – REALLY – wait for the iPhone X, which was to come later.
Fast forward to Apple’s fourth-quarter results, and not only did the company surprise people with a 12 percent year-on-year revenue growth, but also with the fact that the much pooh-poohed iPhone 8 and 8 Plus had actually been bestsellers. Interestingly, quite a few people had been expecting Apple to have a relatively mild quarter due to what had been increasingly called “tepid” iPhone 8 and 8 Plus sales.
How could people be so wrong? After all, a lot of the commentary about the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus sales came from well-known publications and experienced analysts and reporters.
Well, the reason is simple: a lot of us think that seeing is believing.
Yes, I know some people will say: well, isn’t it? That is what we have been taught: you believe what you see. True enough, but that is being over simplistic with a quote. Seeing is believing ONLY if you have seen the whole picture, with most (if not all) of its different aspects. However, what has been increasingly happening in the world of technology is that people see a few incidents and then extrapolate them to create a larger picture. So the absence of long lines at Apple Stores was seen as an indication of poor demand for the new iPhones. I remember a colleague of mine insisting that the Apple Watch had flopped because he had seen no one wearing it.
And this “observation and deduction” process, the quality of which would make Sherlock Holmes doubtless turn in his grave, is not limited to Apple. We have had people telling us doggedly that certain devices are runaway hits in spite of the absence of any clear data. Then how do they draw that conclusion? Well, because a few of their friends bought the device or because they saw a “lot of people using it” in a cafe or in the Metro, or because they heard people asking for it in a store. Now, considering the size of the market, seeing a device in a cafe is not proof of its popularity, and yet it seems this accidental visibility is all it takes to make a device a hit or a miss. A great example of this is the assumption that many make about stock Android being the people’s choice, when in fact the highest selling smartphone brands in the country (Samsung, Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo) have just one stock Android device between them (the recently released Mi A1). There are those who stubbornly believed that the Pixel was a runaway hit until the market share figures set them right, but until that moment, they kept presenting Google’s phone as some sort of a deity. And these are not one-offs – almost every tech writer out there has his or her own perception of which product is doing well and which is not. And more often than not, this is based on anecdotal evidence – the sight of people using the device, advertising, comments by friends – rather than good old-fashioned data.
Needless to say, this approach is dangerous. Yes, it is normal for a layperson or person on the street to draw conclusions based on what he or she sees. But then they do not write articles in the media based on them. Yes, there are times when an educated guess is necessary, especially when some companies are not forthcoming with sales figures. But to base a product’s fortunes on a few queues or a few devices seen here or there is akin to judging the quality of a tennis player by seeing her play for twenty seconds. Seeing is not always believing in the world of technology. It may be hard to find, but there is nothing quite like data to base your conclusions on. As Sherlock Holmes himself said:
“Data, data, data…I cannot make bricks without clay.”
It is time we in the tech fraternity learned that as well.