See Editor's Note at the bottom of this post.
This past week saw appearances from all the usual suspects populating the Apple rumor mill: So-called "analysts" claiming to be able to predict Apple's fortunes a full three years in the future. Booming proclamations from sites claiming to have inside info on unreleased (and probably nonexistent) products. And everyone's favorite source of utterly inaccurate Apple "news": the Asian newspaper DigiTimes. Much more on them later.
Apple stock seen hitting $2,000 by the end of 2015 (AppleInsider)
Some analyst throws a dart at a wall full of numbers and claims Apple's stock price will nearly quadruple in three and a half years.
B.S. detector reading: 10/10. Forecasting the fortunes of a company like Apple more than 40 months into the future is a fool's game, whether you're predicting unprecedented growth or unparalleled DOOOOOOOM. And besides, prevailing "wisdom" among all the other analysts says Apple will be out of business by the end of 2013 anyway, right? Because Apple's "free ride" is over, and either Microsoft or Google is going to take back the keys to the tech kingdom for reasons never adequately, logically, or even sanely explained?
GOOGLE AIN'T PLAYING: Will Clone A Key iPhone Feature (Business Insider)
GOOGLE'S GOING TO COPY IOS GAME CENTER, at least according to Business Insider. The feature would improve the gaming experience for all seven games available on the Android platform.
B.S. detector reading: 3/10. And the only reason it's even that high is because this is coming from Business Insider. From any other source, this would merit a 0/10 reading, because honestly, anyone who points to a feature in iOS and says "Google will copy that" is going to be right eventually, assuming Samsung doesn't beat them to it. (Cue the Android loyalists grousing about Notification Center in iOS 5 "ripping off" the notifications in Google's mobile OS.)
"Sources" claim to have seen the HDTV of myths and legends in person, then go on to parrot every single rumor we've heard about the device over the past year, bringing essentially nothing new to the table. But hey, Cult of Mac has some Photoshopped mockups to go with it, so it must be true!
B.S. detector reading: 8/10. Even if Apple is making an HDTV -- something that is a matter of ongoing discussion amongst the TUAW team, but that I personally rate as only slightly more likely than the Earth spontaneously exploding when I type the end of this sentence -- the handful of Apple employees who actually would have seen a prototype aren't all that likely to be leaking those impressions to their blogger buddies. Maybe someone saw something that looked like a new Cinema Display... and maybe what they saw actually was a new Cinema Display.
Foxconn plans renewed shift into distribution (China Daily)
At the end of a yawn-inducing article about Foxconn's business plans, included almost as an afterthought, are three brief paragraphs claiming Foxconn's chief spilled the beans on the supposedly forthcoming Apple HDTV. He allegedly confirmed that Foxconn is preparing to build the as-yet still mythical device.
B.S. detector reading: 10/10. Yeah, I'm sure that a company that's already on thin ice with Apple is going to go blabbing to the public about unreleased and unannounced products. That's exactly how you retain a business relationship with a company possessed of a legendary obsession with secrecy. Why not risk losing a manufacturing contract worth billions of dollars in order to give a BREAKING EXCLUSIVE RUMOR to China Daily.
Fortune's Philip Elmer-DeWitt does a good job of dissecting this one, calling it a "soufflé" of a story -- meaning you kick it once or twice and it collapses in on itself.
"Sources" claimed Apple was going to buy a German TV company. Only one thing that could mean, right? Right?!
B.S. detector reading: 9/10. Loewe itself said there was "absolutely nothing to" the rumor. Looks like AppleInsider got punk'd. You had to figure something like this would happen once Ashton Kutcher started dressing up like Steve Jobs. Extra credit to you-can't-spell-B.S.-without Business Insider, which managed to wring three or four items out of the Loewe buyout rumor before it was denied and demolished.
For a change of pace, MacRumors sources from somewhere other than DigiTimes. This time, benchmarks popping up on Geekbench show numbers coming in from unreleased, presumably forthcoming MacBook Pros and iMacs.
MR also points this morning to a 9to5Mac story citing Retina displays, USB 3.0, no Ethernet port and a sleeker but not quite Air-esque design for the anticipated pro laptop refresh. Among the presented evidence are strings referencing USB 3 in the recent 10.7.4 update and in betas of 10.8 Mountain Lion; the inclusion of USB 3 (which is natively supported in Intel's Ivy Bridge architecture) means that an external Ethernet dongle could support gigabit speeds rather than the 100 mbit limit of the current MacBook Air Ethernet adapter.
B.S. detector reading: 3/10 on average. These kind of "leaks" have happened before, and not just with Macs; unreleased iPhones and iPads have popped up on Geekbench before, too. While MacRumors itself notes these results are easy to fake, they're also consistent with the performance gains expected from Intel's Ivy Bridge architecture. The 9to5 report includes a lot of speculation around the industrial design of the next laptop line, but most of the onboard features mentioned are of a piece with the direction Apple has been heading with the Pro line.
"Unnamed sources familiar with the matter" claim AppleCare's Europe, Middle East, and Africa division is hiring and training new people. Somehow, for some reason, that apparently means the next version of OS X will launch in June.
B.S. detector reading: 8/10. Even assuming the source is correct and AppleCare EMEA is hiring new people, that could mean just about anything. And no reputable source I know of has pointed to a Mountain Lion launch any earlier than July, probably even later than that.
iMore contradicts every other site out there by saying pretty much every rumor about the iPhone is complete bunk. No 4-inch screen, no metal backside, no booze, no women, and absolutely No Stairway. Denied.
B.S. detector reading: 7/10. iMore and its sources seem to be leaning toward a theory I've had for awhile: Despite a mountain of increasingly disreputable rumors to the contrary, the next iPhone probably isn't going to look significantly different from the iPhone 4S.
That having been said, even if I agree with iMore that doesn't mean I trust the site's unnamed source, particularly over the claim that the iPhone's design hasn't been finalized yet. If the device will indeed launch in October, it seems very unlikely that the hardware design is still in flux.
The same source that gave us classic hits like "slightly different Home button" and "barely changed micro-SIM tray" brings us its latest chart-topping iPhone part: weirdly altered headphone jack cable.
B.S. detector reading: 7/10. At this point, three different parts leaks from the same source is looking like a simplistic con to draw attention to the site's parts reselling business. This newest "leak" is a bit on the outlandish side, as the supposed new cable looks like an absolute mess next to the cable in the iPhone 4S.
The 7-inch iPad will supposedly launch in October, featuring a screen the same 2048 x 1536 resolution as the current iPad (3). It'll have an 8 GB capacity and start at $200 -- the same price as the current 8 GB iPod touch.
B.S. detector reading: 10/10* (or 5/10 -- See note below). A product that's been rumored but never seen for almost two years, the "iPad mini" would serve no other purpose than to cannibalise the existing iPad line. Even if you assume that making a 2048 x 1536 7-inch screen is technically feasible, saying Apple could sell such a device for the current asking price of the iPod touch is downright laughable.
The iPad mini already exists. It's called an iPod touch. Those who claim Apple wants to address the mid-sized market the Kindle Fire took by storm in late 2011 seem to be conveniently ignoring the fact that Kindle Fire sales went down the tubes in early 2012.
As for a lower-priced option to address budget-minded consumers, that already exists too. It's called an iPad 2. Maybe you've heard of it. It's just like the new iPad, only it's $100 cheaper and its screen looks like it's been smeared with Vaseline when you put it next to the new iPad.
*Editor's Note: After some consideration I'm disagreeing with Chris on this one and saying there's some chance of a 7-inch iPad. Why? The Nook/Kindle form factor has proven it has a market, and if Apple had a product in-between the touch and the iPad, it would obliterate Android in that category not unlike how the iPod soared to the top of the MP3 market. As an entry-level "halo effect" device on the cheap, such a tablet need not be called an iPad, even. - Victor Agreda, Jr.
DigiTimes claims blah blah blah yadda yadda. I'd tell you more, but I immediately stopped reading when I saw the word "DigiTimes."
B.S. detector reading: Off-scale high due to use of DigiTimes as a source. On the subject of the 7-inch iPad itself, I remember the first time I heard of this still-fictitious device: an August 2010 "report" from iLounge, complete with Photoshop mockup of course. Let's look at the claims from that long-ago report:
New iPod nano, new iPod touch, 1.7" touchscreen replacement for iPod shuffle, and a shrunken 3" touchscreen for the iPod touch. Partial credit for predicting a new iPod nano, but credit taken away for not realizing it was the same thing as the touchscreen "replacement" for the shuffle (which still lives on). Partial credit for predicting a new iPod touch, but credit taken away for the spurious shrunken screen rumor. Total points awarded: 0.
A 7" iPad in late 2010 or early 2011. Nope. Didn't happen.
Fifth-generation iPhone release bumped up to early 2011. Nope.
Silicone-only iPhone bumpers. Nope.
So, the first time we heard of the 7" iPad, it was included in a rumor blitz from iLounge where the vast majority of the rumored items never came true. In nearly two years since then, the "iPad mini" is still nowhere to be found, and most of the subsequent rumors about it have come from either from DigiTimes or "analysts" with no more clue about Apple's plans than my cat.
I'm sure Apple has been technologically capable of making an iPad mini for years. All the company lacks is the poor business sense to actually release one.
Rumor: Apple planning to launch $799 MacBook Air in Q3 2012 (AppleInsider)
Apple plans to "aggressively combat" ultrabooks -- that special category of notebook that PC makers dreamed up specifically so they could try to copy the MacBook Air -- by, um... selling a budget-priced MacBook Air. Because as anyone who's followed Apple for the past 15 years knows, that is totally something Apple would do. (ALERT: Sarcasm approaching critical mass!) And the source of this report is, of course, "sometimes reliable DigiTimes."
Those are AppleInsider's words, not mine. I've tried to find a more appropriate adjective for DigiTimes than "sometimes reliable," but so far all I've come up with is "standup philosophers DigiTimes." (Video NSFW if your boss is uncomfortable with one of the Golden Girls repeatedly saying something that rhymes with bullspit.)
B.S. detector reading: Once again, off-scale high due to use of DigiTimes as a source.
DigiTimes is the scourge of the Apple rumor scene. It's been funny to watch sites like MacRumors, AppleInsider, BGR, and 9to5 Mac take DigiTimes less and less seriously over the years as the site's record has gotten worse and worse. These sites still breathlessly report every last bit of information effluent that drips out of DigiTimes' rumor sewers, but the way they refer to DigiTimes has shifted over time.
It started with "DigiTimes has given reliable information before," then shifted to "DigiTimes has been reliable in the past." Then it became "DigiTimes has been hit-or-miss lately," then "occasionally reliable." Now we've reached the point of "sometimes reliable DigiTimes."
What's next? "Archaeologically reliable" DigiTimes? "Fossil records indicate DigiTimes provided reliable information during the Cretaceous, prior to the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs and the site's legitimacy."
I decided to find out just how "reliable" DigiTimes has been. My study was thoroughly unscientific, though still performed with far more rigor than anything that's come from that site. I simply did a "site:www.macrumors.com digitimes" search on Google and went through the first 7 or 8 pages of articles I found. MacRumors posts a story pretty much every time someone at DigiTimes mutters something that vaguely sounds like "Apple," so this seemed like a good way to get some traction.
I didn't rate rumors produced in the past two months -- I figure I'll give DigiTimes more time to be wrong -- so I started with rumors in early March of 2012, then worked backward.
Here's a rundown of the true or at least partially true reports MacRumors has printed in the past few years with DigiTimes as a source.
iPad 3 Display Supply Constraints to Result in Early Shortages? (March 2012: 100% true)
Display Panel Shipment Plans Suggest Apple Will Offer iPad 2 Alongside iPad 3 (January 2012: 100% true)
iPad 3 Display Shipments Nearing 3 Million Units with Assembly Set for January Start (November 2011: Mostly true, but mentions B.S. about a 7-inch iPad)
Apple LTE-enabled iPhone Due in 2012, iPhone 4S Preparations for September 2011 (May 2011: Mostly true, and remarkably, one of the first sites to correctly refer to it as the iPhone 4S rather than iPhone 5)
iMac and MacBook Pro Upgrades in First Half of 2011? (December 2010: 100% true, but talk about your all-time easy calls)
Cortex A9-Based iPads, Verizon iPhone, iOS-Based Apple TV Set for 1Q 2011 Launch? (August 2010: 2/3 true. They got the CPU and launch date for the Apple TV wrong, and mentioned some 7-inch iPad B.S.)
DigiTimes Claims Display Improvements in Next-Gen iPhone (May 2010: 100% true, but multiple sources were claiming the same thing)
Next-Generation iPhone Set to Carry 5-Megapixel Camera? (December 2009: 100% true)
So that's roughly 7 2/3 stories in the past few years. Not a bad record... until you look at all the things DigiTimes has said over the years that have been, as the kids in the UK say, utter bollocks. And this is far from a comprehensive list. I only made it through the first several pages of a Google search before I had to step away from my Mac and find a martini to chase the stupid away.
8 GB iPad 2 Coming Alongside 16 GB and 32 GB iPad 3 Next Week? (February 2012)
Mid-Range and High-End iPad 3 Launching at iWorld Seems Unlikely (December 2011)
Thunderbolt Coming to PCs in April 2012 (December 2011)
Rumors of a 7.85-Inch 'iPad Mini' Revived (Again) for Late 2012 (December 2011)
Apple Cutting Fourth Quarter iPhone Component Orders? (November 2011)
Apple's 15" Ultra-Thin Notebook Due in March 2012 (November 2011)
Next iPad Coming March, But "Real iPad 3" Not Until Q3 2012? (November 2011)
iPhone 5 with Metal Chassis and Less Than 4" Screen? (August 2011)
Apple Increasing iPhone Production with iPhone 5 Ramp-Up (August 2011: This one is especially laughable, as DigiTimes' predicted iPhone sales figures were off by more than ten million units)
iPhone 5 to Have a Dual LED Flash? (June 2011)
Apple Ramping Up New MacBook Air Production in July (June 2011: DigiTimes's claim of 8 million MacBook Air units was only off by, oh, 5 or 6 million)
iPhone 5 to Use a 4-Inch Screen? (February 2011)
Touch Panels for Apple Netbook Ordered? (July 2009)
And one from the vaults: DigiTimes Reports PowerBook G5 and iBook G5 Contracts (January 2005)
For every one report DigiTimes gets right, you get almost three more that are complete garbage. "Reliable" and "DigiTimes" are essentially antonyms at this point, and any site that still regularly relies on them as a source has absolutely no credibility.
That's it for this week's rumors. Next week, we'll find out the 7-inch iPad mini was actually released long ago... it was inside our hearts all along.
Editor's Note: Just as this post went live, we spotted Harry McCracken's thorough processing of DigiTimes's track record on rumors. Chris's deep dive into the past outcomes of DigiTimes reporting at the end of this post is similar by coincidence, not by design.