Reporting on future Apple products isn’t easy — it’s actually one of the biggest challenges in the world of technology journalism. Back in April 2011, The Verge’s predecessor (This Is My Next) ran a much-discussed report on the “iPhone 5,” which was claimed to be teardrop-shaped, with an enlarged, gesture-sensitive Home Button, and a bezel-less 3.7″ screen. NFC, inductive charging, and a speaker and sensors hidden behind the screen were also said to be possibilities for the new iPhone. Not surprisingly, the report lit up the Internet, generating a lot of attention (and over 500 comments) for a fledgling web site. Though some people were skeptical, accessory makers actually took the report seriously enough to manufacture cases matching the claims.
As it turned out, the report was wrong — very wrong. Exactly none of those features actually arrived in either the “iPhone 4S” Apple announced in October 2011, or the real “iPhone 5” that debuted in September 2012. The report also didn’t forecast actual iPhone design trends in any useful way. From my standpoint, that’s the critical difference between most Apple rumors and the ones that are actually worth caring about: some early information, even if it’s imprecise, can help you make a better buying decision about an Apple product today or six months down the line.
A small group of nitpickers — notably including people who are fed information directly by Apple, off-the-record — have been taking shots at people who report independently-researched rumors, attempting to undermine the value of big, “not from Apple” scoops versus small, “not (officially) from Apple” tidbits. This may be an inside baseball topic that most people really don’t care about, but it’s worth at least considering for a moment…
It’s easy to take cheap shots, for instance, at KGI’s widely-read analyst Ming Chi Kuo. Kuo once worked at DigiTimes, a Taiwanese publication with a very checkered reputation for forecasting future Apple products, and like virtually everyone who has reported on upcoming Apple products, his personal, post-DigiTimes track record of predictions isn’t perfect. He tends to get product concepts and basic specifications right — no simple feat — but is less reliable on timing, implementation and other specifics.
Having watched Apple for years, this doesn’t surprise me. Contrary to what the nitpickers suggest, Apple has delayed products at the eleventh hour or the very last minute over issues such as quality control, component shortages, or problems with either partners or software. As a rare public example of this, the white iPhone 4 actually got announced but went unshipped for months; less publicly (but still reported by business publications), a major, long-awaited Apple TV update was held up by problematic negotiations with cable companies and content providers. No matter how good Kuo is at forecasting design and engineering changes, manufacturing and distribution involve a lot of moving pieces, and delays are just a reality.
So even if nitpickers want to downplay some of the specifics in Kuo’s reports, they serve a useful purpose for consumers: providing a good general sense of what’s coming up in the future. I would argue that it’s highly valuable for the marketplace to know in advance that the next iPhone will probably include Force Touch, and that it will be an important feature for the device, even if the specifics of how the technology works prove (months later) not to be accurate. People deserve to be able to make an informed decision about whether to buy what’s on the market now or hold off for a personally important feature that might be coming next.
Apple clearly doesn’t like when people delay their purchases — Steve Jobs once lamented that people can get trapped in endless cycles of waiting for what’s next, rather than buying now — but that’s Apple’s perspective as a company that makes money only when it sells things. To that end, Apple has a popular web site, gigantic marketing budget, and teams of people dedicated to selling products. I seriously wonder about any supposedly independent writer who sees it as his or her mission to push Apple’s code of pseudo-secrecy on other journalists, bloggers, or analysts.
It’s not Kuo’s job to carry water for Apple; it’s his job to forecast what Apple is likely to do next, for the speculative benefit of the investment community and public at large. Even if he’s not right all the time, his work provides valuable food for thought, and lets millions of people make more informed — if not perfectly informed — decisions about how to spend their money. I’m glad he does what he does, critics be damned.
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