The pundits predict

I picked on Cringley here, but I checked out a few others - from Scobie to Dvorak and Enderle the record is the same: the ability to write simply about technology coupled with relentless self promotion seems to yield both credibility and a horrifically bad record of indefensible pronouncements coupled with wrong or indeterminate projections no one ever quite gets around to reviewing.

In Canada the unwritten law for journalists is that you can't refer to a forecast issued by the Conference Board of Canada without calling them well respected or otherwise extolling their virtues as forecasters. Their actual record as forecasters, however, is remarkable only for being consistently worse than, say, communist China's record on human rights and environmental protection.

In the IT press something similar seems to apply to some highly placed pundits whose pronouncements are always eagerly awaited, widely quoted, and dead wrong.

Take, for example, Robert Cringley on Apple.

A simple google search for references to Apple on his PBS pulpit site turned up 414 hits this morning (01/20/08). The latest of these includes this pre MacWorld 2008 bit on Apple taking over Adobe:

What I DO see happening is Apple buying Adobe, which would give it effective dominance of digital content creation and distribution on a global scale. Bruce Chizen suddenly stepped down as Adobe's CEO without warning: why? A caretaker CEO (my characterization -- no slight intended) is in place. Steve has always viewed Adobe co-founder and co-chair John Warnock like a father. Warnock and co-chair Chuck Geschke are losing interest in Adobe day-to-day as they move on with their lives. Acquiring Adobe would make Apple much more of a cross-platform company. The combined professional applications could be placed in the Adobe division of Apple where they could go up in price for some markets, becoming VASTLY more profitable. But most important -- keeping in mind the whole purpose here is driving content distribution -- merging Flash and QuickTime would make any other video standards (like Windows Media) simply immaterial.

It's not impossible that this could happen - but it didn't get announced at last week's MacWorld and I personally don't think it ever will.

Lets look, however, at Cringley's older predictions about Apple to see how much real credence this one should get. Has he been right often enough to matter as a credible forecaster?

The second hit on that google search turns up Cringley's June 2005 reaction to Apple's Intel announcement:

Intel is fed up with Microsoft. Microsoft has no innovation that drives what Intel must have, which is a use for more processing power. And when they did have one with the Xbox, they went elsewhere.

So Intel buys Apple and works with their OEMs to get products out in the market. The OEMs would love to be able to offer a higher margin product with better reliability than Microsoft. Intel/Apple enters the market just as Microsoft announces yet another delay in their next generation OS. By the way, the new Apple OS for the Intel Architecture has a compatibility mode with Windows (I'm just guessing on this one).

This scenario works well for everyone except Microsoft. If Intel was able to own the Mac OS and make it available to all the OEMs, it could break the back of Microsoft. And if they tuned the OS to take advantage of unique features that only Intel had, they would put AMD back in the box, too. Apple could return Intel to its traditional role of being where all the value was in the PC world. And Apple/Intel could easily extend this to the consumer electronics world. How much would it cost Intel to buy Apple? Not much. And if they paid in stock it would cost nothing at all since investors would drive shares through the roof on a huge swell of user enthusiasm.

That's the story as I see it unfolding. Steve Jobs finally beats Bill Gates. And with the sale of Apple to Intel, Steve accepts the position of CEO of the Pixar/Disney/Sony Media Company.

It's possible to argue that the jury's still out on that too, but it didn't look credible then and its not looking any better now.

Hit number three is from November 2007 and about AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson shooting off his mouth on faster iPhone connectivity. Here's the hot bit:

I don't think Stephenson's statement was by accident and I don't think he is out of touch with reality. I think, instead, he was sending a $1 billion message to Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

It is no coincidence that Stephenson made his remarks in Silicon Valley, rather than in San Antonio or New York. He came to the turf of his "partner" and delivered a message that will hurt Apple as much as AT&T, a message that says AT&T doesn't really need Apple despite the iPhone's success.

It's one thing to have a private disagreement between companies but quite another to take it public in a way that costs real money.

What I believe is troubling the relationship between AT&T and Apple is the upcoming auction for 700-MHz wireless spectrum and AT&T's discovery that -- as I have predicted for weeks -- Apple will be joining Google in bidding. AT&T thought its five-year "exclusive" iPhone agreement with Apple would have precluded such a bid, but that just shows how poorly Randall Stephenson understood Steve Jobs. Steve always hurts his friends to see how much they really love him, so AT&T probably should have expected this kind of corporate body blow.

This doesn't look good either - Apple is not on the FCC list of bidders nor (at least to my knowledge?) has a formal U.S. market partnership with anyone other than AT&T been confirmed.

Hit number four is from March 2007 and contains these bits:

Now comes the rumor I have heard, that I believe to be a fact, that has simply yet to be confirmed. I have heard that Apple plans to add hardware video decoding to ALL of its new computers beginning fairly soon, certainly this year.

...

So what's in it for Apple? Potentially a lot, because the chip Apple has chosen doesn't cost $7, it costs more like $50, and it doesn't just do hardware H.264 decoding, it does hardware H.264 ENCODING, too.

This will change everything. Soon even the lowliest Mac will be able to effortlessly record in background one or more video signals while the user runs TurboTax on the screen. Macs will become superb DVR machines with TiVo-like functionality yet smaller file sizes than any TiVo box could ever produce. In a YouTube world, the new Macs will be a boon to user-produced video, which will, in turn, promote the H.264 standard. By being able to encode in real time, the new Macs will have that American Idol clip up and running faster than could be done on almost any other machine. Add in Slingbox-like capability to throw your home cable signal around the world and it gets even better. Add faster video performance to the already best-of-league iChat audio/video chat client, and every new Mac becomes a webcam or a video phone.

It's an aggressive play that fits perfectly with Apple's traditional role as the hardware platform of choice for new media development. And I am sure the company will have at least one new service or application that will uniquely support this new chip upon which Apple is placing a $500+ million bet.

Remember, you read it here first.

The notion that Apple would get fast H.264 services by adding a custom chip to what's now a PC motherboard is so incredibily naive and uninformed about both hardware and software that it's breathtaking - and, of course, wrong.

Hit number five is from April 2006 and previews the first one noted aboves. Three key bits:

Over the past three weeks, we've laid out in this column a sequence of clues and events that suggest Apple is planning to next year take on not only Microsoft's hardware OEMs, but also possibly Microsoft, itself, by leveraging a vestigial legal right to some portion of the Windows API -- in this case, literally the Windows XP API. This bold strategy is based on the high probability that -- if something called Windows Vista ships at all next January -- it will really be Windows XP SP4 with a new name. Microsoft is so bloated and paralyzed that this could happen, but what's missing is an Apple application strategy to go with this operating system strategy, because Microsoft's true power lies not in Windows, but in Microsoft Office. Fortunately for Apple, I believe there is an application plan in the works, and I will describe it here.

...

Now here is something interesting: Apple sponsored the ECMA submission of Open XML. Why would they have done that?

Why? Well, once Open XML is a standard, it becomes much harder for Microsoft to change it. By embracing Open XML, Apple could get complete file compatibility with the new Office format. Now if Apple's old cross-licensing deal with Microsoft also gives them compatibility with the older binary Office formats, it could give them something not even Microsoft has at the moment -- support for ALL Microsoft Office formats, past, present, and future.

Such compatibility would be the killer app component in that native Quartz version of OpenOffice I am sure Apple has had idling in the lab just in case Microsoft pulls the plug on Mac Office. Throw in FileMaker as an Access-killer, and they'll really have something.

...

Steve wants Windows applications to run like crazy on his hybrid platform but to look like crap. In his heart of hearts, he'd still like to beat Microsoft on the merits, not just by leveraging some clever loophole. So he needs the top ISVs who are currently writing for OS X to continue writing for OS X, and that especially means Adobe.

There's only one way to make that happen for sure, and that's for Apple to buy Adobe.

Apple has the stock, they have the cash -- such a purchase would effectively cost Apple nothing, the market would like it so well. The Feds would allow it because this current bunch of Feds allows just about anything (just look at Oracle). Efficiencies would abound. For example, Adobe's Premiere editing program could go away in favor of Final Cut Pro. Apple's Aperture photo touch-up program could die so PhotoShop could reign supreme.

The "buy Adobe" part of this is what he repeated recently, notice however that everything else has now been dropped - so while it's possible to argue that the key result isn't it yet, we're definitely still waiting.

I could keep going down the list but it's pretty clear that, at least with respect to Apple, he didn't earn a publically funded pulpit at PBS on the basis of his ability to forecast technology industry change.

Two Notes:

  1. I picked on Cringley here, but I checked out a few others - from Scobie to Dvorak and Enderle the record is the same: the ability to write simply about technology coupled with relentless self promotion seems to yield both credibility and a horrifically bad record of indefensible pronouncements coupled with wrong or indeterminate projections no one ever quite gets around to reviewing.

  2. I'm going to have to learn to write more simply ..um.. and maybe issue a few "press backgrounders"...

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