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Rumor Roundup, Episode 5: New MacBook Pros steal the spotlight


A truly titanic hash of dumb Apple rumors permeated the blogosphere this week, including the usual suspects of the "iPad mini" and the Apple HDTV. But mixed with the mire were multiple reports from actual, reputable news organizations like the Wall Street Journal and Reuters regarding the next generation of MacBook Pros. Unfortunately those same usually reputable organizations also fell into the trap of drawing their information from the most notoriously unreliable of sources when discussing the next-gen iPhone, so it's hard to know what to believe.

It can be difficult to separate the plausible stories from the B.S. even during the slowest weeks. This past week was not a slow week, with an explosion of at least 20 rumors wafting across the Internet and stinking up the place. Fortunately, there are some telltale signs to separate the rumors worth paying attention to from the ones that are only good for laughs.

How do you know, with almost 100 percent certainty, not to take a rumor seriously?

1. Source is an Asian newspaper or "sources in the Asian supply chain"

These so-called "sources" are about as reliable as a guy in a trenchcoat trying to sell you wholesale donor organs from a back alley. "I take lungs now, you get gills next week." Since hardly anyone from Cupertino has loose lips these days, a high percentage of rumors get sourced from Asia instead, where some guy who knows a guy who overheard another guy in a cafe says the next iPhone might be gold plated, or it might hunt down and devour your parakeet. Or both. We've got plenty of examples from this week alone.

'Huge' orders for Samsung's flexible OLEDs spark rumors of Apple interest (AppleInsider)

Korea Times says the "iPhone Yoga" (not kidding) could have an OLED display. In spite of the fact that Apple has shown zero interest in including this technology in its products. 9to5 Mac, now (rather ironically) trying to rebrand itself as an anti-rumor watchdog, takes pain to pour water on this theory.

Rumor: LCD suppliers for 7.85-inch iPad Mini certified with production ready to ramp up (9to5 Mac)

Taiwan-based Liberty Times says production of LCD displays for the long-rumored but never seen "iPad mini" is ramping up. The target shipping for this completely imaginary device is supposedly 6 million units. Which is totally coming this year guys. Promise. Even though it failed to surface in 2010 or 2011, 2012 will be the year of the iPad mini! Unless it launches in 2013. Or 20-never.

[Note: The sources I've spoken to seem very confident that we'll see a smaller, cheaper iPad this year. We'll see. - Ed.]

Apple readies iPhone with bigger screen: sources (Reuters)

Oh boy, if Reuters says it, it's a done deal. Right?! Well, maybe it would be, if the organization had better sources than "people familiar with the situation" and "suppliers in Japan and South Korea." But wait! The Wall Street Journal said the same thing! NEW IPHONE RUMOR L@@K!!!

Apple Moves Toward Larger iPhone Screens (WSJ)

That alleged bastion of "real" news, the Wall Street Journal, says the same thing as Reuters: the next iPhone will have a bigger, 4-inch screen to counter the complete non-threat that Samsung's gargantuan "phablets" represent to Apple's never-ending money stream. So if both the Journal and Reuters are saying the same thing, it must be true, right? Because this 3.5-inch screen is totally holding me back, man.

Small problem: Reuters and the Journal are essentially drawing from the same sources. "People familiar with the situation" and suppliers in East Asia. Bloomberg jumped on the bandwagon too, citing three "people with knowledge of the plans."

The fact that three big names in business news are reporting the next iPhone will have a 4-inch screen can mean only two things: either the iPhone actually will have a bigger screen, or these big news outlets are simply getting hosed by bad sources... just like they did last year.

Of course, simply because these three outlets are big names in the news scene, they get trusted more than others. Even TUAW itself fell for the WSJ's charms on this 4-inch iPhone foofaraw, to which I can only say, "What are you guys paying me for if not to jump on grenades as stupid as this one?"

Rumor: Apple in talks to build Russian R&D facility (AppleInsider)

Yet another sketchily-sourced story from Russian news outlet Izvestia claimed Apple and several other household-name tech companies were looking to build R&D facilities in Russia. No less than 24 hours after this "story" broke, it was revealed this was a mistranslation, and nobody from Silicon Valley was buying those cool fur hats or stocking up on vodka after all.

Collective B.S. detector reading: 9/10. As soon as you find out a story comes from "sources in the Asian supply chain," flip a coin. If it comes up heads, the story is complete nonsense, and you can go about your business. If it comes up tails, the story is still complete nonsense, but this time you have to drink margaritas until you believe it with all your heart.

Sources in the Mexican supply chain tell me tequila stocks are running dangerously low because Reuters and the Wall Street Journal's coin tosses both came up tails.

2. Source is DigiTimes

I went over this last week, as did Harry McCracken of Time Techland: DigiTimes is as reliable as a Bulgarian subcompact automobile powered entirely by Old English malt liquor. Which is to say, not very reliable at all. In fact, DigiTimes' record is worse than you'd expect to see from random chance. Seriously, I bet I can source more accurate Apple rumors from a Kalahari bushman who's never even heard of an iPhone.

Despite that, some "news" outlets still source information from DigiTimes. Please join me in the shaming and shunning.

'iPad mini' to be ultra-thin thanks to new touch technology (BGR)

Nonexistent product, ill-defined "new technology," and DigiTimes as the source. The instant I saw the word "DigiTimes" in this story, I wanted to find BGR's server room and set it on fire.

Suppliers gearing up for launch of Apple's new MacBooks in June - report (AppleInsider)

See, I even kind of believe that the MacBook Pro will get a long-awaited refresh around WWDC, though it might be more because I want to believe because I want a new Mac. But because DigiTimes is telling me exactly what I want to hear, now I have to consign it to the same rubbish bin as all those letters I used to get from Publisher's Clearing House saying I may already be a millionaire.

Collective B.S. detector reading: Infinity. Any Apple "news" site that still cites DigiTimes should add at least four paragraphs of disclaimers about how the site has only been right three times in three years.

DigiTimes is now doing measurable, real damage to companies other than Apple. Samsung's market value plummeted by almost $10 billion on news that Apple was planning on sourcing components from another supplier. The source for this "report" was DigiTimes. Apparently Samsung's investors haven't learned what the rest of us already know: DigiTimes is more full of crap than the New York City sewer system.

3. Source is an "analyst"

I'm kind of curious how one finds employment as an analyst. They seem to do essentially the same job as novelists, but they get paid more and do less research. They also don't seem to fall under the umbrella of the James Frey Effect; when readers find out a novelist fabricated events he claimed to be true, they grab pitchforks and torches. When analysts make up whatever nonsensical B.S. popped into their head after the three-martini breakfast ended, nothing at all happens to them when their predictions inevitably fail to come true. Check these guys out, for instance.

iPhone orders 'significantly' reduced as Apple begins prepping for next-gen model (AppleInsider)

"Analyst" Shaw Wu says his checks with the Asian supply chain suggest Apple has pared back its orders for the iPhone 4S in anticipation of reduced demand in the quarter preceding the next-gen iPhone's debut. This rumor is a two-for-one: an analyst sourced his story from the Asian supply chain, which means you'll find about as much truth in this rumor as in your cousin's story of that one time he totally saw Sasquatch.

Analyst expects MacBook refresh by June, next-gen iPhone by October (AppleInsider)

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, once upon a time worthy of his own TUAW meme, has steadily lost credibility over the past couple years with his repeated tilting at the windmill of the still-unrealized Apple HDTV. Munster expects refreshes to the MacBook line in June and an iPhone refresh in October. Both of those ideas made perfect sense -- at least until I found out that Gene Munster had the same idea. Now I'm thinking the odds of either update happening dropped significantly just because Munster said they would.

Collective B.S. detector reading: 6/10. No matter how seemingly reasonable the claim, any time a story has an "analyst" at its heart it's automatically worthy of nothing more than derision. Over the past several years, analysts have proven only two things: they have no idea how Apple actually works, and their supposed "inside knowledge" of what Apple will do next is worse than worthless. They can't even present a unified front on some topics, such as...

Analysts back away from Apple's 'iTV' (BGR)

A truly rare breed of analyst in possession of a triple-digit IQ restated what others (including me) have been saying for years: Apple probably won't make much (if any) money off an HDTV, which significantly reduces the chances the company will sell one. Many analysts noted that content providers aren't likely to play nice if Apple introduces its own TV set, and at least one echoed a sentiment I've said several times: HDTVs are big, bulky, and not particularly profitable compared to tiny profit piles like iPhones and iPads.

If Apple builds an HDTV, I'll buy one. I'm practically required to at this point. But my disbelief in this product actually existing is so profound that I essentially won't fully buy into its existence until it's actually sitting on top of my entertainment center and blasting 2001: A Space Odyssey into my living room.

4. Headline makes bold assertion, article has no reputable source

Declarative sentences in headlines regarding Apple rumors are pretty amusing. Here are some examples.

Here's How The New Apple TV Will Work With The iPad (Business Insider)

New MacBook Pros will get Samsung's fast 830 series SSD too (9to5 Mac)

What a Tall 'iPhone 5' with 4-Inch Display Looks Like (MacRumors)

In all three cases we have a bold assertion in the headline with only scant evidence in the actual article. Business Insider claims the Apple HDTV will have an interface similar to TiVo, which is hilarious by itself, but it also says each "major channel" will have its own app. Its source: "an industry source who has spoken with someone who used Apple's TV remote control software on the iPad." In other words, "a guy who knows a guy."

9to5 Mac deduces the next MacBook Pros will have fast SSDs sourced from Samsung, but doesn't offer a shred of evidence in favor of that assertion. I guess we're supposed to just take the site's word for it.

MacRumors apparently didn't learn its lesson last year when its expensive-looking Photoshop mockups wound up looking nothing like the iPhone 4S, so the site commissioned yet another set of mockups to show what a 4-inch "iPhone 5" might look like. If you fell into a coma around this time last year, please be assured that a full year has actually passed. You wouldn't know it by the current spate of endlessly repeated rumors like this one, but this is actually the middle of 2012 and not 2011.

Collective B.S. detector reading: 10/10. You need better evidence for claims like these than "because we said so" or "we know a guy."

The biggest happenstance in the rumor scene this week was the explosion of "details" regarding the next MacBook Pro. As usual, 9to5 Mac is on the scene to claim credit for "confirmation" of months worth of rumors about the upcoming refresh. The rumors all say these next MacBook Pros will be moderately thinner, ditching the internal optical drive in the process, and the next Macs will all feature so-called "Retina Displays" featuring double the resolution of current Macs.

In other words, the exact same rumors we've been hearing since late last year. Nothing new, and nothing particularly implausible.

B.S. detector reading: A surprisingly low 2/10. Nothing that's been said about these MacBook Pro updates seems particularly outlandish. Apple usually doesn't jealously guard its Mac-related secrets with the same fervour it reserves for the iPhone and iPad, so as long as a rumor isn't sourced from the Asian supply chain, DigiTimes, an "analyst," or some blogger's fever dreams, it's got a halfway decent chance of being true.

In this case, I hope it's true. My current Mac is getting a bit long in the tooth.

By this time next week, I may well be incarcerated for arson, because the next time I see DigiTimes cited as a reputable source I'm likely to commit some serious acts of pyrotechnic vandalism.* Just in case that doesn't happen, I'll be back again next Monday to throw ice-cold water on the rumor scene once again.

*Just kidding, FBI. Please do not fly to New Zealand and arrest me. The weather is too cold for handcuffs right now.

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