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Opinion: Apple rumors can be valuable forecasts of future trends, even if they’re imprecise

Theo Levey's early iPhone 6 render wasn't perfect, but it was usefully close

Theo Levey’s early iPhone 6 render wasn’t perfect, but it was usefully close

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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  1. Rich Davis (@RichDavis9) - 7 years ago

    By looking at the photo, one might think it doubles as a Magic Mouse. :-)

  2. Alex Moran - 7 years ago

    Also. People need to stop leaking apples secrets. It gives competitors an advantage. Apple spend shit ton of money their work obly to have others leak it and take away the little advantage they have

  3. mrobertson21 - 7 years ago

    Can’t wait for his response. lol

  4. rogifan - 7 years ago

    You could at least name Gruber in the article. I don’t see what’s instructive about research notes from a supply chain analyst. It’s not like someone from Cupertino is feeding this guy secrets.

    • o0smoothies0o - 7 years ago

      You’re exactly who this article is talking about. Go look at his predictions. He got many…many….. of them correct. As the article states, his timing is off more than anything, and as the article states, timing is the most difficult to get right, (on new products, not new iPhones).

  5. o0smoothies0o - 7 years ago

    This is a good article. I agree, the timing is the most difficult to get down, because Apple isn’t afraid to hold things back.

    Anyone who has been following Apple rumors for years now, knows that many of them have aspects that are correct. Remember when I very early rumor for the iPhone 6 was that it would have a curved screen? Well, it didn’t have what was being said exactly, but it did have beveled glass, which I think was definitely what that rumor was referring to.

    Now think about what early rumors for the iPhone 7 could mean. Rumors claim that the iPhone 7 could feature a “completely flat” LCD panel. I think that could mean that they go back to flat glass, instead of the 2D beveled edges they are using currently. If they go back to flat glass I think they’d only do that to go to edge-to-edge screen, because obviously you need no bevel to go edge-to-edge. I think Kuo’s latest prediction of 2GB RAM in the iPhone 7 and 3GB RAM in the iPhone 7 Plus, if true, could mean they’re going with dramatically increased resolutions. The 2GB RAM in the iPhone 6S Plus runs the 1080p fine now, and it will run 1080p fine in the iPhone 7 4.7″, but I think if they increase RAM only a year later in the Plus, it will be for one reason: to support 1440p in the iPhone 7 Plus.

  6. 89p13 - 7 years ago

    I find the “predictions” to be interesting – and the predictors degree of accuracy in the past will help me to assign a internalized “level of confidence” – but they are just that – GUESSES! Some are more accurate than others, but Apple is Apple and there is no absolutely, 100% way to predict what they may do / not do until they publicly announce and show their products.

    This isn’t brain surgery – in many cases it’s just making educated guesses based on past trends / supply chain observations / casual comments – it’s just fun.


  7. triankar - 7 years ago

    οne thing is for certain: the next iPhone will be thinner and lighter. Maybe its battery will barely last a day, but that’s of no importance. As long as it’s thinner and lighter