I’ve noticed a trend among tech journalists and bloggers over the past few years where someone will publish estimates from a trade industry analyst as if they were real figures. Want to know how many iPads Apple sold in 2010? Ask an analyst. Need to know what the return rate on the Samsung Galaxy Tab is? Ask an analyst. It just turns out that they may be wrong… in some cases very wrong.
The only problem is that these analysts are basically guessing. Sure, they’re making educated guesses based on the data available to them, and in many cases they’d do a better job of guessing than I would. But that’s why I don’t tend to make a lot of predictions about sales, or what the future holds. I just try to report what I see and maybe provide a little context from time to time to help readers understand what things mean.
The truth is the only company that really knows how many iPads were sold in 2010 is Apple. The only company that knows how many Galaxy Tab units were returned is Samsung… although all of those figures are a little tricky to track, since the companies actual customers are vendors (like Best Buy, AT&T, and other wireless carriers and retailers). So you can ship a few million units without necessarily knowing how many are in the hands of customers right away.
This week, the blogosphere was abuzz first with news that Samsung had shipped 2 million Galaxy Tab Android tablets in 3 months. That news came from Samsung. Then the company clarified that this was the number shipped to vendors, not necessarily the number of units walking around in the hands of consumers. Fair enough.
Then some dude said that not only hadn’t Samsung actually sold 2 million tablets to consumers… but that customers who bought them were so unhappy that the return rate was a whopping 16%.
Samsung begs to differ. The company says the actual return rate in the US is actually less than 2 percent — which isn’t unusual for computers and other consumer electronics.
I don’t really mean to single anyone out here. My point is that this isn’t a unique incident and I think the echo chamber of online news repeats figures like these so much that people start to think they’re true. That’s why people have been claiming that netbooks are dead for the past year or so, when at best the evidence suggests that sales have flattened, or maybe even declined a little.
OK, I’m glad that’s off my chest. I’ll admit, we’re not completely immune to hype. From time to time Liliputing has reported on analyst estimates. But I hope that we and other journalists will always remember to put these estimates in context as just that: estimates which can be and often are just plain wrong.