Hilarity is rare in the iOSphere, rumors being serious business. But this week a post at a Korean tech website, describing a 12.9-inch iPad maxi in the works, triggered hilarity at 9to5Mac for reasons that are unclear.
Also this week, Apple's downward spiral into cheapness continues, with predictions of a still-cheaper iPad mini due by year's end. And we now know when iPad 5 will be released: sometime after the release of the Next iPhone, which will take place in September.
You read it here second.
"Forget iPad Mini 2 as Much Cheaper iPad Mini to be Released in the Holidays, Says Analyst."
~ Kristin Dian Mariano, International Business Times, with a headline that brilliantly distills a fairly complex, and speculative, analysis by two stock analysts into SEO-friendly click bait.
iPad 5 will have a 12.9-inch screen, which is "hilarious"
The Korean language ETNews.com website posted a story that cites anonymous "industry sources" who claim that the next iPad, tentatively dubbed "iPad maxi," will have a 12.9-inch screen.
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There were two reactions in the iOSsphere. One was from rumor sites and tech blogs that repeated the story more or less uncritically. The International Business Times, not surprisingly, was one of them.
Then there was the reaction by Ben Lovejoy at 9to5Mac who mocked the post. His headline: "Someone got punk'd: iPad Maxi rumor is hilariously making the rounds."
"There are certain crazy rumors that begin with a wholly unreliable source, then take on a life of their own as they get repeated around the web," he cautions his readers. "Meet the ‘iPad Maxi' ...Korean website ET News really is suggesting that Apple intends to launch a 12.9-inch iPad with this "tentative" name, and it really is being reblogged with straight faces ..."
Yet Lovejoy continues – in the very next sentence – to admit "It's not that the idea itself is impossible. In a post-PC world, there may well be a role for larger tablets, and given Apple's keen interest in the textbook market, a 13-inch iPad might have merit." Which, based on a rather laborious English version created by Google Translate, is exactly one of the points made in the ETNews story that Lovejoy dismisses so completely. (To his credit, Lovejoy links to the Google Translation of the original Korean webpage.)
So what makes ETNews.com a "wholly unreliable source" to Lovejoy? He never says. The closest thing to an explanation is this: "But when a rumor comes attached to a name like that, you'd think there might be a little more upward movement on the part of various eyebrows ..."
This caused a bit of upward movement on the part of The Rollup's eyebrows. Lovejoy almost seems to be saying "this otherwise plausible rumor is bunk and hokum, not to mention crazy, because a) the website that posted it is Korean, or b) it's a website I've never heard of, or c) both."
Here's the original Korean language version of the ETNews post. There is an English version of the ETNews website, but based on a couple of search attempts there, it doesn't seem to have the iPad maxi posting. The list of current stories show a mix of original reporting (often with anonymous "trade" or "industry" sources and at least sometimes liberally mixed with opinion), official vendor announcements, and news ‘aggregation' that references or makes use of stories from other media sites. In short, it's a lot like, well, 9to5Mac.
According to the "about" page, ETNews.com is the online digital portal for Korea's The Electronic Times, a daily IT newspaper founded in 1982--31 years ago, or before most of 9to5Mac's regular readers were born -- to focus on "information technology news and analysis." According to information at Hudson Media, the print publication has a circulation of 60,000; the ETNews.com website has 540,000 unique visitors daily and 44 million monthly page views.
Amazon's Alexa Internet service has the following information about ETNews: three-month global traffic rank of 16,032 (lower is better), and a traffic rank of 359 in South Korea, where about 93% of its audience is. It's been online for 14 years. It has a "reputation rank" of 1,130. This number is essentially the number of links to ETNews.com from Alexa's sample of users (higher is better: the New York Times, by contrast has a current reputation rank of 415,200). The audience "tends to be users who have incomes over $30,000; they are also disproportionately highly educated men between the ages of 35 and 55 who browse from work."
Just for kicks, we input into Alexa 9to5Mac's URL and found this: global traffic rank of 10,754, U.S. traffic rank of 5,164, and a reputation rank of 11,079. "Based on internet averages, 9to5mac.com is visited more frequently by males who are in the age range 18-24, have no children and browse this site from work." Ouch.
Clearly none of this proves that the ETNews post about iPad maxi is accurate. For what it's worth, ETNews or its parent, The Electronic Times, is cited occasionally in business stories by Bloomberg and Reuters about the Korean technology sector. Lovejoy may be right that the iPad maxi is hilarious even though it's not impossible and might have merit. But he should be able to either cite reasons for his opinion other than his prejudice about a foreign website, or show that ETNews.com has a pattern of creating rumors out of thin air.
Cheaper iPad mini due this fall in addition to iPad mini 2
CNET's Brooke Crothers seems to have been among the first to pick up on a Note To Investors (NTI) by Glen Yeung, a stock analyst with Citi Research, wherein Yeung predicts that Apple is readying a new iPad mini priced at less than $250. The current model starts at $329 full list price.
Crothers quotes Yeung but doesn't give much context. Here's one Yeung quote from the CNET post: "Supply chain checks by Citi's Asia-Pac Technology Team suggest a mix shift surprisingly toward Apple's older iPhone4/4S. And with our expectation of a low-end iPhone slated for September launch, followed by a sub-$250 iPad Mini, we expect this trend to persist."
According to Crothers' interpretation of this rather Delphic pronouncement, Yeung is actually saying that Apple is shifting toward less-expensive products.
Yet Yeung's reference to the "older iPhone 4/4S" is confusing in Crothers' account. Crothers seems to think the two comments above add up to Apple designing and tooling up to deliver brand new, but cheaper, iPhone and iPad models. But perhaps Yeung means that more consumers in Asia-Pac are opting to buy the older, and lower-priced, iPhone models. Or that the supply chain companies are increasing their production of components for these older models due to surprisingly higher demand for these older phones. Or both. Or something else.
The iOSphere hates confusion as nature hates a vacuum. The indefatigable Kristin Dian Mariano summed up the Right Thinking Conclusion in the headline to her International Business Times post: "Forget iPad Mini 2 as Much Cheaper iPad Mini to be Released in the Holidays, Says Analyst."
In Crothers' CNET post, instead of citing comments or evidence actually drawn from the supply chain contacts, Yeung "mentions a comment by Apple Chief Operating Officer Peter Oppenheimer to back up the expected shift to cheaper devices," Crothers writes. Here is Oppenheimer's comment, made during the most recent earnings conference call in April: "We are managing the business for the long term and are willing to trade off short-term profits where we see long-term potential."
We're back in Delphic mystery since "long term" and "trade off short-term profits" doesn't immediately or obviously translate into "cheap iPad."
Then, confusing matters even more, Crothers concludes his post with two more quotes from Yeung's NTI: "September quarter...low-end iPhone (15 million units) & iPhone4/4S (10M) volume, will likely meet or exceed that of iPhone5S (10M) and iPhone5 (5M)." And "We detect [a]...pattern to lower-end mix that we view as part of a natural and inevitable trend for Apple and indeed the entire mobile device industry."
But how does higher demand for older, lower-priced iPhones (and, perhaps, also for older, lower-priced iPads?) show that Apple is "shifting" its product strategy to include new models designed for lower prices?
A more complete account of Yeung's NTI is by Tiernan Ray, writing Barrons Tech Trader Daily blog. In his post, Ray notes that Yeung repeated a Neutral rating for Apple's stock, "writing that margins may come under pressure this year as the company sees more sales of the lower-priced models of the iPhone, introduces a new, lower-cost model, and perhaps introduces a cheaper iPad, with assembly beginning in August for a September debut of the new products."
We learn from Ray that Yeung bases his analysis in part on the work of colleague Kevin Chang, "who wrote in a separate note that his surveys of...[Apple's] electronics suppliers in Asia, suggest ‘we continue to see weak demand for iPhone 5 but surprising demand sustainability for iPhone 4/4S,'" according to Ray. Chang estimates, since Apple doesn't break out sales by model, that these two older models may account for two-thirds of total iPhone shipments in the December 2013 quarter.
He also argues that iPad mini sales are "weakening" and Apple "may attempt to counter with lower-priced models," according to Ray. Chang again: "It seems that Apple is gradually seeing more impact from sub-US$200 offerings from Google, Amazon and other PC brands. Besides the retina display iPad Mini, we also expect Apple to launch a lower cost iPad Mini in the Dec Q (similar screen resolution with a cheaper mechanical design) priced at around US$200-250, to defend its market share."
Yeung then concludes, "From these data points, we detect an unsurprising pattern to lower-end mix that we view as part of a natural and inevitable trend for Apple and indeed the entire mobile device industry." This "inevitable" trend seems related to the rapid penetration of smartphones globally: "In a simplistic sense, at this level of global handset penetration, the market for new mobile-cellular hardware is now approaching a replacement-only market," Yeung writes.
How Apple actually assesses this changing market and how it responds is still a mystery. So far, it has not segmented the iPhone product line into differently priced models; the iPad mini is so far the only attempt to do so for its tablet line, and it's not clear whether buyers purchase it because it's a cheaper iPad (which seems to be the conventional wisdom) or because it's a smaller iPad.
The Citi data actually reveals that Apple already has lower priced iPads and iPhones: the older models that are selling "surprisingly" well, at least in the case of iPhone.
iPad 5 will be released after the September release of iPhone 6 or 5S, whatever
The Next iPad will be released "in time for Christmas," is how the iOSphere is summing this rumor up.
This week's paean to a September morn is courtesy of the Japanese tech site Macotakara, which recently published an account of the long-expected "cheap edition iPhone" which "will be produced during July September for shipping," according to the Google Translate version.
At the very end, Macotakara dropped in a few sentences about the Next iPad: "Last information is for iPad 5th generation. The source told me that back microphone hole, which was removed from iPod mini [presumably a typo for ‘iPad mini'] product however it was placed on prototype, will be added on this new iPod [ditto]. And he told iPad 5th may support standard SIM [rather] than only support data-SIM. Unfortunately, new iPad will be shipped after iPhone 5S, the source said."
At least the last sentence makes sense, which is what the iOSphere seized on. In this case 2+2 adds up to 3 or perhaps less. Macotakara didn't actually say that the cheap edition iPhone or iPhone 5S or anything else would actually be announced or released in September. The post was really about manufacturing targets and time frames.
If we didn't know better, we could almost credit Apple CEO Tim Cook as Macotakara's source for this rumor. Cook announced several weeks ago that Apple was "hard at work on some amazing new hardware, software, and services that we can't wait to introduce this fall and throughout 2014." [For complete details, see "Apple's Cook resets 3 popular, and wrong, Apple rumors"] Ever since, almost every week, a new rumor appears about a September or October or "in time for Christmas" release date for the Next iPad or the Next iPhone. Each one "adding weight," in iOSphere parlance, to the idea that Tim Cook might be right.
Last's weeks' September Surprise Rumor for iPad 5 came from a post by Digitimes, which The Rollup covered.
If this sounds familiar, that's because almost exactly the same rumors, in exactly the same order, occurred 21 months ago. Here's how 9to5Mac's Jordan Kahn introduced his rumor account of Aug. 12, 2011: "Digitimes previously reported that manufacturers have already begun preparing for production of the iPhone 5 [which turned out to be iPhone 4S] and iPad 3, which would be unveiled in September and reach customers as early as October. Now, adding more weight to these claims, Macotakara is reporting that an iPhone 4S variant along with a new iPad will arrive in the same timeframe."
As noted, Apple announced and released what turned out to be iPhone 4S in October 2011; the third-generation iPad was announced and released five months later, March 2012. The similar rumors now, as then, depended on anonymous "sources that can be trusted" (Macotakara) and "sources with Taiwan's supply chain" (Digitimes).
Now, as then, Makotakara's "added weight" turns out to be as weighty as a down feather.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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