Fitting the Facts to the Narrative

Of all the publications that credulously reported the debunked Strategy Analytics claim that Samsung has passed Apple in phone handset profits (and there were many), I thought the most telling was the headline on David Murphy’s piece for PC Mag: “Analyst: Samsung Finally Overtakes Apple for Mobile Operating Profits”.


To his credit, Murphy has updated his original piece and published a thorough follow-up bringing attention to Daniel Dilger’s take-down, which is a lot more than most can say, including Juliette Garside of the Guardian UK, Tim Worstall of Forbes, Don Reisinger of CNet, Ryan Knutson of the Wall Street Journal, Kevin C. Tofel of GigaOm, Zach Epstein of Boy Genius Report, Matt Clinch of CNBC,1 and this un-bylined report by BBC News. None of those pieces contain an update showing that Strategy Analytics’s claim is disputed, let alone how decisively so.

So again, not to single out Murphy, but to me, his “finally” explains why so many publications jumped on this story — the belief that it was inevitable, that Apple’s market domination has been an aberration, that the company is in the midst of an inevitable decline. It’s a pre-conceived narrative driving the facts, rather than the facts driving the narrative.

Another factor is the strange affliction that causes many to believe whatever is attributed to an “analyst”, no matter the analyst’s track record (Exhibit A: Rob Enderle; Exhibit B: Trip “Claim” Chowdhry) or the methodology and sources for their conclusion. Some analysts are truly insightful; others are flat-out morons.

The right way to do this is to draw the narrative from the facts. The wrong way — but easy way — is to force the facts to fit a preconceived narrative. I worry endlessly about falling into this trap myself. That Android is a fragmented mess for developers. That Android devices are prone to janky scrolling. I seldom jump on articles that reinforce those beliefs immediately; I’d rather be late to link and right than early to link and wrong. Yesterday’s link to the BBC iPlayer Android lead’s admission that their Android team is three times larger than their iOS team seemed to me a strong indication that my hunches remain correct.

If anything, Murphy’s willingness to follow up, with an open mind, deserves praise. “Be right all the time” is a worthy goal but impossible; “Try to be right all the time, but when wrong, get right as soon as you can” is the correct mindset.

  1. Clinch published a follow-up, but it’s so utterly dismissive of Apple Insider — calling Apple Insider an “Apple fan website”, and more or less ignoring the actual evidence that Strategy Analytics’s conclusion was facile — that the point of his follow-up seemed more to be “These wacky Apple fans will believe anything” than “Whoa, those numbers from Strategy Analytics stink to high hell”. ↩︎