Watching the kettle: An article on speculation (LONG)

Discussion in 'General Mac Discussion' started by slightly, Mar 14, 2003.

  1. slightly macrumors regular


    Mar 14, 2003
    Beacon, NY

    I've been thinking a lot about the process of speculation, especially as it applies to development of Apple's hardware and software products. This seems like a suitable forum for airing my thoughts. I didn't come to Macrumors to bash either the site, its users, or the practice of discussing possible upcoming Apple products. (It would be incredibly churlish, and also just plain odd, to come to a site called "Macrumors" and then complain that it's full of rumours about Macs.) I visit this site daily, along with other Mac discussion forums, to stay abreast of current thinking, and really just to see what's going on in the community, and what users think about where Apple is heading.

    Along with everyone else here, I love Macs with a passion. I converted from the PC about two years ago, and I have never looked back. One of the most fun times I've had trhis year was watching MWSF on the live Quicktime feed and chatting simultaneously on the MacOSX IRC channel. (If you want a Mac geek credential, that ought to do it. My girlfriend just rolled her eyes when I told her.)

    I've peppered this piece with quotations from other people's posts -- these should not be taken in any way as criticisms of those posters, simply as illustrations of the points I want to make. And I'm not saying that I myself am immune to the points I'm making below -- I've been guilty of almost everything I cite. It's intended to be more of an analysis of rumouring than a criticism of it.


    Mac users love Macs. Apple has a vibrant, intelligent and imaginative global community of users, whose second favourite occupation is talking about Mac stuff. (The first would, of course, be using it.) There are almost certainly more Mac evangelists -- and these are just users, not Apple-paid missionaries -- than for any other technology company around.

    And we will talk about Macs until the cows come home. (And then we'll talk the cows into buying one.) Macrumors, Macwhispers, thinksecret, macosrumors, and macbidouille are just some of many sites dedicated to bringing news to the Macintosh community. There is no equivalent "", and I think that should be a source of pride to all Mac lovers. The average Windows user doesn't particularly care one way or the other about the operating system or the hardware, until it goes wrong or doesn't do what it's expected to.

    New news! All the time!

    But here's the problem with news agencies. Events happen when they happen. News services are positioned to respond to and report on these events. However, events that can be legitimately reported as "news" don't happen all the time, even in the global arena. But what happens when there is little news considered worthy enough to be reported? Rolling news services and web sites feel as though they have to justify their existence somehow.

    There's a subtle difference between specific-interest news sites and rolling 24-hour broadcast news channels: In the absence of new events, broadcast channels revert to analysis of already-broken stories: expert analysis if they can get it, pundit analysis if they can't. (Example from CNN: "Let's go back to that story about Iraqi missiles. We have my mother here in the studio to comment on it.") Specific-interest sites, on the other hand, hunt around for anything even vaguely related to their market audience.

    For example, here are some recent headlines from Mac rumour sites:

    "Metal interface on Mail?" -- Macrumors, March 11
    "Apple considering new board member" -- Thinksecret, March 13
    "Lone Apple in Action [story on Army officer using a PowerBook]" -- Macslash, March 8

    Hmm. Thrilling news, indeed. Or not.

    However, one thing that both types of service have in common is that, in the absence of stories deemed newsworthy, speculation arises. There's the belief, not altogether misplaced, that people would rather read inaccurate or downright wrong information than see no new information. If MSNBC just stopped reading out the news and showed the anchors in the studio sitting around scratching their arses, people would quickly tune to something else.

    To take one example, Macslash styles itself "A daily dose of Mac News and Discussion". So it had better make sure it has something new every day, or else I won't bother going there, right? I love Macslash, and I do visit it every day, but I wouldn't feel stiffed if it just didn't have anything new that day.

    And that's the problem. Development at Apple, or in the Mac community in general, is not "news" in the same way that, say, a Serbian premier getting assassinated is. People usually agree with the dictum "No news is good news" (even though it is not always correct: there is, after all, some good in the world), but "No Apple news is good news" is almost always considered wrong by Mac users. And for a company whose tight-lippedness is legendary, that way of thinking is just going to lead to frustration.

    The tapping fingers of fate

    "Waiting" in this context seems a strange way of putting it. "Looking forward to", perhaps. "Interested in seeing", okay. But "waiting"? That carries with it an implication that you're not using the programs that you have. If we don't know what new features a future release will contain, then what's the sense in overlooking what you currently have?

    Here's an example of what I'm talking about:

    Bob: I can't wait for Apple's new OS version 10.3 to come out.
    Jim: Why, what's in it?
    Bob: I don't know. Apple won't tell. But I'm sure it'll be great!
    Jim: What's wrong with 10.2? Aren't you using it?
    Bob: Yes, but the thrill has gone. I crave newness. In fact, I'd rather Apple just skipped all the little releases and brought out OS 11.
    Jim: OS 11? What's in that?
    Bob: No idea. But I've been waiting for it for nearly two years and I'm losing my patience!

    And so on.

    There's no real case against frustration from hanging on bugfixes. If something about the program you need to use is faulty, and it prevents you from doing your work, then you're perfectly justified in feeling hard done by.

    However, frustrations created by a sense of "missing features" is less justifiable. The truth is, it's unlikely that those features were listed in an official specifications document and then not included in the final product. It's more common that the feature set that users unfairly compare with the actual set is one that existed only in their heads.

    There's always a workaround. If you want tabs in your browser, use a browser that has tabs. If you want your MP3 player to also include a digital camera, buy one of those. I like Safari, but I can't use it for every web page I visit, so I use Internet Explorer as well. It doesn't make me a bad person, just pragmatic.

    Frustration also comes from speculation on release dates.

    The perfect Apple product, like any technology, is like Godot. It's never going to show up. Expectations are fuelled and the bar is continually raised by rumours. Let's say Apple brings out OS 10.3 in the summer, in concord with a G5 dual-processor 2 GHz PowerMac. There's always going to be a percentage of users for whom it just isn't good enough. "What? The UltraMac doesn't come with a teleport and a beverage holder? It's just unusable!!!"

    Well, you can start buying something now. Nothing is stopping you, except for the feeling that, if you buy something now, there'll be a better version of it out very soon. I will therefore no longer have the best version and will feel cheated. The product that I would have been perfectly happy with had I not known about all this speculation will now be as the taste of ashes in my mouth.

    If you buy now, of course the chances are high that there will be something better available this time next year, possibly at the same or even a cheaper price. It's practically a certainty: that's just the nature of computer technology. Apple isn't immune from this. Yes, you can wait for the next iPod, or PowerMac, or iBook to come out. But Apple is never going to stop developing. You can bet that even before you've unpacked the box and thrown away the polystyrene packing, they'll be working on the next version.

    And perhaps there's also a fear that, if Apple don't "hurry up" their development, a rival company -- let's say, Microsoft -- will get there first. This fear is well-meaning, but you have to remember that first is not always best. The people at Apple aren't fools. You just know that whatever they bring out will be amazingly classy, cool, and desirable, even if it's not necessarily the first greyhound out of the gate. Just look at the iPod -- it wasn't the first MP3 player out there, but by God it's the coolest.

    That's basically all I wanted to say for now, other than to repeat that I love the Mac with a passion that's probably just as unhealthy as the frustration I talk about above. Keep up the rumours by all means, but I also want to exhort you (if you need reminding) to appreciate the Mac stuff that you have. We're using the best software and hardware on the planet, and I think that's something we should be really proud of.

  2. Mr. Anderson Moderator emeritus

    Mr. Anderson

    Nov 1, 2001

    One key issue with Apple, though is its closed door, we're not going to really let you know what's coming until we release it policy. This secrecy is self perpetuating and makes speculation our only option in between the little nuggets of truth that leak from one source or another.

    I know that no matter what, someone will always want a faster, better, cheaper machine (I'm one of them). But more frustration is generated knowing the the Wintel world is on average using faster and cheaper machines. I'd like to see that change, along with everyone else, I'm sure.

    I'm holding out for a 970, and maybe not even the first batch. In the mean time I'm working along nicely with my older, obsolete G4s.

  3. SBG88 macrumors regular


    Feb 19, 2003
    But isn't that the reason that seperates a Mac user. Its just plain FUN to speculate and hear the rumors and gossip. Otherwise we would be in the class as windows users.

    Maybe I missread you, but, these forums and rumors (imo) are what makes being an Apple user that much more unique and exciting.
  4. slightly thread starter macrumors regular


    Mar 14, 2003
    Beacon, NY
    I agree completely, as I tried to make clear in my original post. But it also fuels increased expectations, and once people get a sniff of a possibility (eg tabs in Safari, colour video on the iPod) it's as though the "waiting clock" has been started, even though nothing has come from Apple. People then feel as though they have been "waiting" for months on a product which may not even be in development.

    Rumours and speculation are fine, but it seems like, in my opinion, there's an awful lot of bad feeling when a particular rumour gains a life of its own but nothing concrete appears. It's a bit of a vicious circle, really.

  5. CrackedButter macrumors 68040


    Jan 15, 2003
    51st State of America
    Interesting post, i read it all and its good, it does point out our expectations and what becomes of them.
  6. SBG88 macrumors regular


    Feb 19, 2003
    I'm not trying to be mean when I say this, but...

    If people get bad feelings from reading/believing a known unsubstantiated rumor, than tough sheeeat.
  7. Gus macrumors 65816


    Jan 1, 2002
    You say that, and then when people bitch about a product release RIGHT after they bought the previous version, everybody says, "too bad, you should have read the rumor sights for info on the new ones that were going to be released". MacRumors is definitely the best run of these sights, as Arn is dicriminating about what he posts, but most of the time, there is some truth to a lot of these rumors. I would agree, though, that the speculation sometimes raises the bar so high that no product will satisfy.

    Just a good post slightly. Thanks for your thoughts.

  8. SBG88 macrumors regular


    Feb 19, 2003

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