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.

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8 replies on “This is why we don’t often write about analyst statements”

  1. There’s some 3rd party analytics here, from before this all blew up:


    The very bottom chart suggests that just under a million Tabs were activated in December. Even if you assume the 16% figure was accurate and all the returns were counted in that figure, that’s still around 0.8 million devices activated in a single month. Since Samsung were suggesting they’d shipped 2 million and they’d upped sales estimates (from 1 million in 2010 to 1.5 million) presumably based on early sales data I’d suggest that there’s good evidence it is selling well and certainly geekier owners seem to like it.

    This clearly hasn’t went down well with people who believe 7″ tablets with a “phone” OS (or indeed any Android version) are viable.

  2. Brad, I think you are as guilty of the same as what you are venting about, in taking the Samsung reported figures as gospel. Numbers can be “interpreted” (read: massaged) in a number of ways, and publicly-released numbers are interpreted by interested parties in the best light favorable to them. Unless there is an independent auditor, and the methodology was made known, you can never tell if the company-released info is accurate.

    Certainly, copy-paste “journalism” is rife, and errors are often propagated, but I would rather take a shoddy number from a neutral party, and one from a vested party.

  3. I’ll pat myself on the back about Samsung being full of sh!t about their number of Galaxy Tabs sold. Nobody said it was easy selling a turd. Now that I have that off my chest, I wouldn’t likely by anthing “Samsung” for the rest of my life. Over priced netbooks and faulty misleading figures says pathetic to me. Lot’s of other manufacturers and these guys can go away as far as I’m concerned. It’s interesting though that Samsung comes out and actually admits their numbers were complete crap. Refreshing yet affirming at the same time. Why support them?

    As for analysts? People said it already. It’s the copy and paste sheep mentality.

    Sh!ts and giggles everyone!!

    1. The point is that I don’t think Samsung *ever* overstated their sales. I think the numbers were taken out of context by a number of publications.

      1. Ah I see. Still I would counter argue that they helped that happen because they didn’t refute it whatsoever. I’m a bit jaded I guess in that I don’t trust corporations. Did they plant the seed about how many units were sold in the beginning? I just say they certainly had the most to gain in terms of hype and negative stories about sales does them not good. Thinking a bit more, I’m sure they were the ones trumpeting their lofty goals and that they attained them. I can’t back it up with facts, but that’s my memory of the events of the turdy Samsung Tab.

  4. Let’s also place a tiny amount of blame on the companies who don’t tell anyone their figures good or bad.

    When you have lazy reporting and a corporate culture of secrecy is it any wonder the vacuum is filled with worthless data? But it is key to remember that ‘vacuum’ is created by companies that refuse to comment and entities like NPD they have a strangle hold on individual pieces of data they want to collect to sell.

  5. All this is compounded by these “news blogs” that do nothing more than regurgitate a story they found on another site without doing any research whatsoever. Then we get thousands of comments on other articles spewing this nonsense out as if it were KNOW facts. It’s out of control!

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