The 401st Blow :: Thoughts On Media

Claim Chowder

Posted in Software, Technology by Noah Harlan on January 20, 2010

Step 1: Open Mouth, Step 2: Insert Foot

There’s a term called Claim Chowder that was, as far as I can tell, coined by Daring Fireball’s John Gruber. It refers to when someone makes a prediction with an aura of certainty and knowledge that turns out to be horribly wrong. A good example from the film business was last May, when one Wall Street analyst, after seeing 20 minutes of Pixar’s UP, downgraded Disney’s stock. As the New York Times reported:

Richard Greenfield of Pali Research downgraded Disney shares to sell last month, citing a poor outlook for “Up” as a reason. “We doubt younger boys will be that excited by the main character,” he wrote, adding a complaint about the lack of a female lead.

UP did $293 million domestically and $727 million worldwide theatrically.

That is claim chowder.

So next week Apple will be announcing a new product. It is widely expected that it will be some form of tablet computer. Nobody has seen it. Nobody has any specs on it. Nobody knows the price. To borrow William Goldman’s words, nobody knows anything.

But that’s not stopping the claim chowder. PC World published this piece by Bill Snyder today. Mr. Snyder, apparently, is clairvoyant because he seems to know a lot about something he’s never seen. To whit:

[If] you run a small business and want to avoid wasting money and brain cells on superfluous technology, forget about the iSlate or whatever Apple is going to call its tablet computing device. It’s going to be too expensive, it does things you don’t need to do, and it will add a messy layer of complication to your company’s computing infrastructure.

Sure, the tablet we expect Apple to launch on January 27 will probably have more than its share of cool factor. But do you want to spend $1,000 or so for bragging rights? For that price, you could buy two perfectly serviceable Windows netbooks, four iPhones, or–if you want to go the Apple route–cover most of the cost of a 13-inch MacBook Pro, getting proven technology that’s useful right out of the box.

Now he may turn out to be right. I’m not a betting man. But if I were, I wouldn’t bet against Apple.  Let’s take a look at some of Mr. Snyder’s predecessors in the claim chowdering of Apple:

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in 2007 on the iPhone:

There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.

John Dvorak writing an article entitled “Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone” on Market Watch, also in 2007:

As for advertising and expensive marketing this is nothing like Apple has ever stepped into. It’s a buzz saw waiting to chop up newbies

The problem here is that while Apple can play the fashion game as well as any company, there is no evidence that it can play it fast enough. These phones go in and out of style so fast that unless Apple has half a dozen variants in the pipeline, its phone, even if immediately successful, will be passé within 3 months.

There is no likelihood that Apple can be successful in a business this competitive.

Stewart Alsop writing in Fortune Magazine in 1997 on Apple’s acquisition of Steve Jobs’ Next Software company:

Let’s get this straight right away: Apple Computer did the wrong thing. On December 20, Apple announced that it would spend $400 million to purchase Steve Jobs’s company, Next Software. The company said it would adopt Next’s NextStep operating system for future versions of the Macintosh computer. Most of the commentary I’ve seen about this decision is off the mark, especially the talk about Jobs coming back to save Apple. That is sheer nonsense. He won’t be anywhere near the company. People seem to have a real desire, perhaps even a need, to make excuses for Apple. Everybody wants to find a way to justify what Apple did.

You can’t justify it. Apple did precisely the wrong thing. Now the only future for the company is to get smaller and smaller until there’s nothing left. In fact, the only sensible conversation to have about Apple is the one in which you argue about how long it will take to die.

[snip]

It takes a long time to kill an $11-billion-a-year company. Apple’s already down to around $8 billion a year. I give it another three years, until the millennium, to fall the rest of the way to the ground.

And another piece from John Dvorak (how does this guy still get work?), this time from the San Francisco Examiner in February 1984 following the debut on the original Macintosh (the first computer with a mouse and graphical user interface – before this, everything was done at the command line):

The nature of the personal computer is simply not fully understood by companies like Apple (or anyone else for that matter). Apple makes the arrogant assumption of thinking that it knows what you want and need. It, unfortunately, leaves the “why” out of the equation – as in “why would I want this?” The Macintosh uses an experimental pointing device called a ‘mouse’. There is no evidence that people want to use these things.

As Samuel Clemens once said, “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Apple will introduce something next week, it may not change the world, but fair warning to those that bet against them.

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7 Responses

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  1. [...] on January 30, 2010 I guess today is my day for following up on earlier posts… Last week I posted about claim chowder, and in particular the following assertion by PC World’s Bill Snyder about the impending [...]

  2. Nick Hodges said, on November 29, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Possibly the greatest example of Claim Chowder ever:

    http://www.newsweek.com/1995/02/26/the-internet-bah.html#

  3. Noah Harlan said, on November 29, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Absolutely one of my favorites.

  4. Nick Hodges | Flotsam and Jetsam #16 said, on November 30, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    [...] inaccurate prediction about the Internet.  Could this be the greatest single example of “Claim Chowder” in the history of the tech business? Share or Bookmark this [...]

  5. [...] Apple product predictions prove to be wrong. He loves to keep score. He even has a name for this: claim chowder. And it doesn’t matter if he himself is wrong, he likes keeping score none the [...]

  6. Max Shelley said, on January 23, 2011 at 8:36 am

    In my opinion, claim chowder isn’t just that fact that the stat is wrong, even wildly wrong. It’s calling it out as wrong in advance that really makes it really sweet.

  7. Brad said, on June 15, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    FYI, it wasn’t actually Gruber who came up with the term. If you listen to his podcast, The Talk Show, from this week’s WWDC, he and Cabel Sasser mention that it was Steven, the other founder of Panic Software, that coined the term when the three of them were doing a live podcast a few years back.


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