There’s a joke that one of the reasons Apple products are so popular is because of Steve Jobs’ reality distortion field. His RDF was a combination of Jobs’ charisma, persistence, marketing and magic; together, these traits made each Apple unveiling event a lesson in marketing theater. After Jobs’ passing in 2011, current CEO Tim Cook has assumed the mantle of being Apple’s top evangelist at each announcement event and no doubt took at least a few pages from Jobs’ notebook for this. Thus far, Cook seems to be doing a good job with his own brand of RDF; Apple is still seeing strong sales and continuing support for its products post-Jobs. So what’s the secret to Cook’s RDF?
Maybe it’s his misleading charts.
Apple’s latest event, which announced several new products on Oct. 22, had one.
The above chart shows a nice curve that seems to indicate exponentially increasing iPad sales, but it doesn’t even come close to reflecting Apple’s actual sales data. Quartz offered a more accurate version of this chart:
Look at the data points that Quartz plotted for Apple’s actual cumulative iPad sales; it doesn’t even match up. Apple’s version of its cumulative curve implies a more dramatic, exponential growth than what actually happened, which, according to Quartz, is more a straight line. I guess Apple just hoped you wouldn’t notice this little fudging of the facts. And this isn’t the first time Cook’s RDF has worked its magic, either.
In the month before this presentation, Apple held another announcement event that revealed the current generation of iPhones. Cook offered this lovely chart for iPhone sales:
It doesn’t even have a Y-axis for God’s sake. Are we talking about hundreds (or millions? billions?) of iPhones sold? It could’ve been measuring the number of teddy bears produced in Romania for all we know. Once again, Quartz offered its own, more accurate, version of the chart:
At least the cumulative curve is spot on this time between Apple’s version and what the real stats say.
Nonetheless, Cook’s use of cumulative sales in both announcement events to indicate the popularity of Apple’s products is misleading. For one, statistics about cumulative sales hides the fact that some folks bought new iPhones and iPads to replace old ones, which doesn’t mean necessarily mean iPhones and iPads are getting more popular as Apple’s original charts wanted you to think. Cumulative sales also don’t reflect things like Person A selling his old iPhone to Person B so that Person A can get a new iPhone. Using cumulative sales actually hurts Apple for this particular scenario because now there are two iPhones being used where there had only been one, thus increasing Apple’s market share. Maybe it’s time for Cook to find something else to augment his RDF.