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John Gruber questions NPD figures, just as NPD figures turn against Apple

Having seen the NPD report which claimed Apple’s retail market share has dropped, John Gruber takes issue:

“It’s never been clear to me why reports like this are reported as fact. NPD doesn’t have some sort of magic access to Apple’s sales numbers, and Apple does not release monthly sales data.”

Which is interesting, given this report that John ran last May:

“The idea that Apple now sells two-thirds of retail computers costing $1000 or more is simply stunning… I strongly suspect that if NPD’s numbers were more granular, Apple’s share would be even more dramatic at higher price ranges: $1500+, $2000+, etc.”

Or this one, where he approvingly writes of Ina Fried’s report on (you guessed it) NPD numbers:

“It is entirely possible that hell has frozen over: there are PC industry analysts saying sensible things about Apple’s market share.”

Or this one, where he reports NPD numbers on the iPhone:

“The NPD Group is reporting that the iPhone 3G is now the top-selling consumer mobile phone in the U.S., beating the Motorola Razr for the top spot.”

In fact, a Google search shows the number of references to NPD on DF – mostly, approving of the positive figures about Apple market share they’ve consistently produced over the past few years – now goes on to two pages.

Of course, picking out old posts where people got it wrong is easy (there’s plenty of them here, if you care to look). And everyone has the right to change their mind. John would probably argue that he’s caveated most (but not all) of his posts about NPD numbers with “NPD is reporting that…”

But this doesn’t change the fact that John has been happy to lean on NPD numbers and talk about them as if they were fact for a while.

It looks pretty odd start to question the veracity of a research company you’ve been happy to report on before at just the same moment their numbers change direction. That’s doubly true when those numbers challenge the hopes and desires of a big chunk of your readership.

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  • Glug

    Gruber vs Betteridge – FIGHT!

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk ianbetteridge

    Heh, well, hardly: I greatly enjoy John's writing generally. I just think he may have got carried away with the pro-Apple outlook this time.

  • Wes

    Here's an interesting case study. Gruber turned out to be right, but not for reasons he implied. Apple's sales figures were surprisingly good, but that was almost entirely on the back of the iPod and iPhone and related sales. Mac sales did drop significantly in America, pretty close to what NPD had predicted, though softened by the release of new desktop machines. Though Gruber's language is slippery enough for him to claim victory, I think in this case, the point goes to NPD.

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk ianbetteridge

    Yes, it's pretty clear: iPod and iPhone sales are strong. Mac sales aren't, but also aren't anything to worry too much about. A drop in sales is entirely predictable and consistent with the current economy, and the actual fall isn't significant enough for Apple to have to panic and start hacking prices and margins.

    One interesting question that I haven't seen an answer to: did Apple expand availability of iPhone into any significant new territories or new channels this quarter? If so, that might explain the good iPhone sales.

    Retail stores usually report both increased revenue and revenue which is normalised against new channels and stores, so you can better judge performance. Given Apple's aggressive move into retail, they should probably start reporting that, too.

  • Wes

    Looks like they did expand a bit in phone distribution in late 2008 and 2009 (big ones being Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Thailand and a number of African country). Anyway, I don't disagree on Mac numbers. If I'm reading them right (I'm using the info as analysed by Joe Wilcox at Apple Watch) Apple computer sales fell pretty much in line with PC sales, after removing netbooks from the picture, with sales shifting to the cheaper white model. Given the profit margins, they could probably ride out the rest of the year, provided sales don't fall more dramatically. I presume 10.6 will come out later this year (3Q or 4Q) which is always good to boost sales more. Still, the unknown is still the economy. I'm very pessimistic on that front, and we're due to see much worse.

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk ianbetteridge

    Oh, I think they could ride out quite a lot longer than till the end of the year – they're still making good margins and selling lots of products, and with any luck the worst of the recession will be behind us soon.

    Of course, there's a danger that the bottom could drop out of the Mac market – but I think that's still a remote danger, and the first people to know about it will be Apple (they get the daily sales, of course). They'll have plans in case that happens. All the evidence suggests that this is a very well-managed company.

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