17 January 2007

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

I know I shouldn't help give eyeballs to Paul Thurrott's musings, but I can't help refuting this one:

While Apple's yearly revenues for Macintosh computers have barely edged up in over five years, the company's revenues of iPods and related products and services have skyrocketed

Yearly revenues for Macs have barely edged up in over five years? Really.

Well, I knew this not to be true, as I track these numbers regularly. I took Apple quarterly reports back to the final quarter of 2000 (the start of the 01 fiscal year), which allowed me to compare a full five years.

Revenue growth over the 5 years in each of the last quarters was 122%, 31%, 52%, and 84% respectively. Unit growth was 90%, 48%, 60% and 89% respectively. For the full year, revenue growth was 68% and unit growth 72% over the 5-year-ago period (a more reliable figure). This is not just a recent year phenomenon either (although the first 3 years were relatively flat).

I pointed this out to Paul in a provocative email and received a polite-ish response - obviously from someone who receives countless emails from the Mac fanbois, claiming that he got his statistics from the New York Times. He promised to investigate, but don't expect a retraction, folks.

But Paul's use of "facts" is pretty typical in this day and age - deliberate or not. It is not always easy to find the facts (though this one is not too hard). It also seems beyond many people to analyse them properly. When combined with the recursiveness of the blogosphere (and it's frequent lack of attribution to source), it is easy to see how even accurate reports from some time previously get regurgitated indefinitely to prove a point. I wonder for instance how many reporters and bloggers will (mis)use the discredited Forrester report on iTunes sales last year (or, the even worse interpretations of that report) whenever they want to take a swipe on Apple in the coming year?

Anyhow, back to the facts. I think today's financials will once again show the Mac is back on track, growing towards a marketshare that at least makes it a contender again - and especially so in the consumer market of the developed world where it is most important (for Apple) to be. Now, Paul, go and update your facts!

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