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John Dvorak Finally Gets Something Right on Apple

John Dvorak: How Wrong Can One Guy Be?
Daniel Eran Dilger
I try to avoid reading John Dvorak, because I am the moth to his flame just as he plays the fly to Apple’s ointment. Further, what I write in response to his sticky linkbait is nearly as predictable as what Dvorak writes about any subject, and I don’t like to be predictable. However, Dvorak finally got something right in writing about Apple, and that is indeed noteworthy.

For years, Dvorak has played the part of a bumbling Inspector Clouseau, comically saying a string of ridiculous things yet somehow remaining employed.

He famously derided the 1984 Mac’s mouse a confusing puzzle that nobody would want to use, insisted the Mac platform was dead and that Macworld Expo would be canceled in 1998, insisted Apple would migrate to Intel’s failed Itanium processor by the end of 2004, and announced last year at the iPhone unveiling that it was a mistake because it was “trending against what people are really liking in phones nowadays, which are those little keypads.”

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Not Entirely Accurate.
While Dvorak did get something right in his recent post speculating about why Apple’s stock was down, the article in general was by no means a chockablock with intelligent commentary. He began by writing, “For the first time in recent memory, Apple Inc.’s stock declined after Macworld,” which is true only if you suffered an amnesia that blocked out any recollection of four of the last seven years: 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005.

In reality, predicting the direction of a volatile stock price like Apple’s is no simple matter of consulting what it did last year. Even Steve Jobs has publicly thrown up his hands and smiled when asked about Apple’s stock. The daily decisions made by thousands of investors with different motivations and needs results in a turbulent chaos that, in the very short term, is no system of a clockwork that obeys rational algorithms but rather is simply a high stakes gamble.

Usually, Dvorak doesn’t overtly say things that aren’t true like that as much as he just makes flippant, inflammatory comments that contradict everything else he’s just said. Reading his up and down cranky observations is like eating a bowl of ice cream loaded with broken glass and nails: unpleasant and simply hard to understand why it was ever served up. But that’s the point: Dvorak is baiting anger and frustration.

John Dvorak: How Wrong Can One Guy Be?

John Dvorak: How Wrong Can One Guy Be?

MacBook Air Head.
For example, concerning Macworld, Dvorak contended, “There was nothing that hot or that new, except for the MacBook Air, a 3-pound ultralight computer that’s gorgeous but not competitive.” Of course, that’s simply wrong, as the Air is priced significantly less than comparably equipped light, thin laptop models, while still being faster and offering better graphics and a full sized, backlit keyboard.

The real problem with the MacBook Air, Dvork fumed, is that the “trend in laptops” is “where powerful portables are used instead of desktop machines […] This only works when the laptop has as much or more capability than a desktop. The MacBook Air does not.”

So Dvorak is arguing against the idea of any laptop that serves as anything other than a desktop replacement. The problem is that Apple already has 20% of the retail market for those machines and is outpacing the growth of other PC makers across the board. A secondary problem is that many people have more than one computer, and needs that go beyond sitting at a desktop PC or its laptop replacement.

How can Dvorak demand to be titillated with regular hot new announcements while also insisting that nothing ever challenge his conservatively cranky view of the status quo? A riddle, to be sure.

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Hold the iPhone!
Last year, Dvorak similarly complained about the iPhone, not only after its Macworld Expo announcement instantly threw CES into an ice age, but also at regular intervals throughout the spring up to its release. He claimed to have insider information on its instability and disappointing battery performance, both of which turned out to be incorrect.

After the enthusiastic reception of the iPhone, investors sent Apple’s stock from its already all time high in the 80s in January to 200 by the end of the year. In the last months of the year, profit taking traders had twice sent Apple’s stock up and down to a trough of 160 after hitting peaks near 200. After the new year started, another selloff began that has continued through the month, dropping Apple’s valuation back to where it was last fall.

That suggests investors have failed to price any impact of the iPhone’s dramatic winter quarter into Apple’s capitalization. As several analysts have pointed out, Apple deferred the revenue from those millions of iPhones it sold last year, so while it has the money in the bank accruing interest, it is only officially counting an eighth of that revenue every quarter over the next two years. If it hadn’t used subscription accounting, its outlook and earnings would have been even more impressive on paper now, but less impressive in the future.

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I Told You So and So.
Dvorak, echoing Mike Elgan and a worldwide gaggle of Windows Enthusiasts and Apple Naysayers, decided that the stock price drop was instead related to “horror stories” and “randomly reported” problems with the iPhone. He shouldn’t give himself so much credit.

Dvorak also managed the chutzpah to insist that Apple could have avoided all this crisis and trouble by having canceled the iPhone, as he flippantly suggested last spring. “This was a business I did not want to see Apple get into, and it may be a partial cause of the dramatic stock decline,” he wrote this week.

Yes, no doubt Apple would be really doing well if it had sold the Mac running Real Man DOS without that crazy mouse, transitioned to the Itanic processor boondoggle shortly after canceling the Mac as a product, and gave up on the iPhone to prevent the huge stock slide it was destined to result in shortly after having stolen the hot selling position as the most popular high end smartphone model on the planet.

Incidentally, no company has put Dvorak on its board of directors to tap his operational expertise in deciding their companies should do.

 Wp-Content Uploads 2007 11 Wyewyg-Analysts.021

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Dvorak Gets Something Right.
So granted, the first dozen paragraphs of his analysis was all the same sensationalist, inflammatory drivel that we’ve come to expect from a chowderhead who has built a reputation on complaining about successful companies rather than adding value to the world.

However, Dvorak next revealed a brilliant observation that cut his fellow Naysaying Enthusiasts to the bone. They’ve been insisting for years that Apple needs to be more like Microsoft–even while also warning us that Apple has already become too much like Microsoft–by rolling out optimistic roadmaps well out into the future and encouraging its employees to yammer in their blogs about whatever pops into their heads concerning the possible, unofficial future of their company.

Yet here is Dvorak with an earth-shattering epiphany: “Now I can understand,” he wrote, “why Apple is so secretive about upcoming products and announcements. The more people know what is coming, the less the impact for its products.” Oh no, Dvorak discovered the secret handshake!

Why Is Apple so Secretive?

Shhh, That’s the Secret!
Yes, Steve Jobs works his magic in part by dramatically unveiling products that already work and are immediately going to be offered for sale. Last year, Apple showed off three main products, and all went on sale within a couple months, apart from the iPhone which worked to maintain six months of hype before finally being available. This year, Apple promised all three of the big new products would be available in about a month.

Compare Microsoft: last year it announced stuff that not only wasn’t interesting, but wasn’t available. This year, more of the same. In fact, the only things currently on Microsoft’s horizon for consumers are:

  • Windows XP SP3, which the company is being really quiet about because it can only hurt Vista sales further
  • Windows Vista SP1, which is primarily designed to make its WGA spyware more onerous and according to beta testers won’t speed up Vista at all
  • Windows Seven, the next significant update to Windows 2000 due in 2011, which again makes Vista look bad
  • Windows Mobile 7, which promises to copy some of the features of the iPhone for users of the 2010 version of the Motorola Q, which will presumably still cost hundreds more than the iPhone
  • The Surface, which is already long overdue but supposed to ship eventually, if you are hotly anticipating a $10,000 bathtub erector set

If you thought Microsoft was boring between 2000 and 2007, get ready for a real snorefest for 2008 and into 2015. Meanwhile, Apple has done nothing but pick up speed and scope. Dvorak is right in pointing out the obvious, that Apple gets more play from delivering secret products that are ready to buy at their unveiling than Microsoft gets from promising things out into the distant future that it likely can’t deliver. However, that’s not Apple’s only trick.

John Dvorak Concedes 2007 was a “Crappy Year” for Windows Enthusiasts

John Dvorak Concedes 2007 was a “Crappy Year” for Windows Enthusiasts

Impressing Without Secrets.
Nobody guessed that Apple would release a wireless Time Capsule appliance for the consumer market with server-rated hard drives. Nobody guessed that Apple TV would immediately gain access to Flickr and on demand Podcasts and music videos in addition to renting movies directly on screen like the iPhone’s WiFi Store. And nobody really clearly saw that Apple was pushing the iPod into a WiFi mobile platform, even if some of us may have speculatively wished for it.

The real news, however, is that Apple doesn’t need to keep everything a closely held secret in order to impress. The majority of Apple’s recent big product announcements have been right in line with the outlook I predicted, yet I was still impressed because there’s a lot more work involved in building and delivering a viable product at a competitive price than there is in imagining a hypothetical one into existence.

With Apple now consuming chips from Intel, a company that publishes highly discussed public roadmaps of its future plans, Apple won’t be able to deliver surprises like the Power PC G5. However, Apple now has more interesting things to unveil. Note that Apple quietly shipped the new Mac Pro this year in advance of Macworld, despite its gaining a new dual quad core processor that could itself been the star of the show if the company didn’t already have a string of more interesting things to demonstrate.

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The Unpredictable Apple.
Apple’s four engines–Macs and wireless, iPods and iTunes, the iPhone, and now Apple TV–are all expanding in scope and value. Apple could spend five years developing these incrementally along conservative, predictable paths and still easily triple in size and profitability. We know that isn’t going to happen though; the company has demonstrated too much interest in taking risks and pushing the envelope to simply sit back and collect rent on its properties.

Unlike Microsoft, we don’t know what Apple is going to do next, even with analysts tips, rumor sites, and partner roadmaps at our disposal. We used to get a year long outlook at Macworld, and we now only officially get a two month peek at the pipeline. Apple now has events every couple months that release new products.

Dvorak can dance out to his podium and perform his regular civil defense siren of impending doom after every announcement, but having done it for years at regular cycles and having been wrong repeatedly to an embarrassing extent, his shrill bleating is easy to ignore. So is his first occasion at stumbling onto the realization that Apple impresses its audience with surprises.

Dear John: Thanks for that gem, but if you really want to shake up your career, throw in some more spontaneity. Isn’t it about time to announce you’ve “tried the iPhone and like it”? How about stirring up a tempest of blog chatter over having successfully rented an iTunes movie? Come on Dvorak, surprise us as you insist Apple should. Right now, you’re just serving up an overall disappointment.

 Wp-Content Uploads 2008 01 200801271858

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  • Jon T

    For John Dvorak this article must make excrutiatingly painful reading. Ouch ouch ouch!

    But then you made your bed John Dvorak, so now enjoy lying on it…

  • Bruce B

    Although, to give Dvorak a bit of credit, he’s quite complementary on Macs in this week’s TWIT podcast (http://www.twit.tv/129), saying in effect that he’s constantly delighted and surprised by how well the Mac works, that unlike Microsoft someone has really sweated the details.

  • dallasmay


    Why do you insist on doing John’s advertising for him? David Pogue doesn’t waste a page on him. Walt doesn’t even sneeze in his general direction.

    You should demand payment for all of the advertising you do for him. He is not stupid, just a troll.

  • boris-cleto

    Dan is doing us all a great service by being the guy who reads Dvorak so the rest of us don’t have to.

  • http://homepage.mac.com/johnnyapple johnnyapple

    John Dvorak is easily one of the smartest people on earth. Time magazine has be wrong, repeatedly, for not naming him person of the year. I have a photo of him by my front door with a candle always lit. He is a hero of epic proportions.

  • http://homepage.mac.com/johnnyapple johnnyapple

    PS. Dear hiring manager at ZDNet, Please consider me for …

  • gothgod

    haha! =) Very funny johnnyapple!

    Secondary, about Dvorak. He get money for writing that shit, that is his purpose. He cannot write something meaningful, that would be contra-productive. He is not a moron (or moran as the sign says, held by that very intelligent-looking man in the picture), he just do what his masters has told him to. If he would say something good about apple, he would loose his pay (don’t you think?).

  • gus2000

    Van Gogh was a brilliant artist whose original works demand top-dollar. However, “pr0n” and “JESSICA NUDE” draw far more clicks. Clicks equal revenue.

    Since columns by Dvorak (Enderle, et al) are completely exploitive and lack any redeeming social value, that makes them the pornographers of the tech industry. And not in a good way.

    PS. lol@johnnyapple

  • http://www.marketingtactics.com davebarnes


    It would be appreciated if you would link to the original John Dvorak article: http://tinyurl.com/3yqy48

  • http://ephilei.blogspot.com Ephilei

    If you hate Dvorak, the best thing you can do is ignore him. The only place I read his writing is in your quoting. Daniel, you may pride yourself in debunking him, but you’re really playing right into his hands.

    Google has it right: in PageRank, no links get negative votes. In the webosphere, even bad publicity is good publcity.