Technologizer

Fact-Checking Digitimes, the Taiwanese Apple Rumor Source That Keeps Crying ‘Wolf!’

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Harry McCracken / TIME.com

“It’s key to note that the DigiTimes has a hit-or-miss track record for nailing predictions….”

“Digitimes has a spotty track record with regard to Apple rumors…”

“Given the lack of hard evidence and DigiTimes’s less-than-stellar record for rumors of this kind…”

Those are the disclaimers issued last week by tech journalists who wrote about a rumor — first reported by Taipei-based electronics newspaper and news site Digitimes — that Apple will respond to the arrival of second-generation Ultrabook laptops by releasing a $799 MacBook Air in the third quarter of this year.

They weren’t the first reporters to spread one of Digitimes’s Apple rumors while expressing caution about the odds that it amounted to anything. For years, Digitimes has been a high-profile rumormonger when it comes to upcoming Apple products, usually crediting its gossip to the Asian component makers who supply Apple with bits and pieces of technology. (The publication says, for instance, that “sources from the upstream supply chain” told it about the $799 Air.) Its stories get covered widely — sometimes by writers who pause to express a certain degree of doubt, and sometimes by ones who don’t.

But the thing is, Digitimes isn’t just wrong some of the time. When it comes to the big Apple stories, it’s wrong most of the time. Sometimes wildly so. It’s reported that its sources had said that Apple was going to release MacBooks with AMD processors, iMacs with touch screens, iPhones with built-in projectors and iPads with OLED displays. Those products, and others mentioned in Digitimes articles, never showed up.

A Digitimes defender might argue that the publication always says that the Apple rumors it reports are merely what it’s heard from various sources. Which is true. But at least some of its sources appear to be so lousy that suppressing their scuttlebutt would make more sense than publicizing it — and partway through its stories, it sometimes stops hedging and starts stating the rumor as fact.

The continued willingness of other tech journalists to take its Apple reporting even semi-seriously is a potent example of the Jeane Dixon effect at work. Dixon (1904-1997), the celebrated American astrologer/psychic, told Parade magazine in 1956 that the president elected in 1960 would be a Democrat, and that he’d die in office. That was enough to let her claim that she’d predicted John F. Kennedy‘s assassination, a triumph that she spent decades milking. Even though she later predicted that Nixon would win the 1960 election. And that World War III would break out in 1958. And that cancer would be cured in 1967.

Like Dixon, Digitimes still has an audience. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the prognostications it publishes come true or not, and no amount of being wrong is enough to ruin its reputation.

That’s not to say that Digitimes never gets anything right — sometimes it breaks news that actually turns out to be news. As I thought about the $799 MacBook Air rumor and the chances it might pan out, I decided to revisit old Digitimes stories to get a better sense of its batting average. I ended up fact-checking 25 of them.

Here’s what I found:

The Digitimes story:New iPod may have wireless capabilities,” 8/16/2006

The rumor: Apple will “soon” take on Microsoft‘s wi-fi-enabled Zune MP3 player by releasing an iPod with built-in wireless capabilities — and is already training Asian salespeople how to demonstrate them.

The source: “market sources”

The upshot: Apple doesn’t introduce anything which is called an iPod and has wi-fi until more than a year later, when it launches the iPod Touch. Even today, more conventional iPods, such as the Nano and Classic, don’t have wi-fi.


The Digitimes story:Sources in passive component industry say AMD-based Apple notebook in the works,” 11/15/2006

The rumor: Apple is planning to release a laptop that uses a processor from AMD rather than Intel.

The source: “Taiwan passive component makers”

The upshot: Almost six years later, Apple still isn’t using AMD CPUs.


The Digitimes story:Apple and ViewSonic to unveil 17-inch widescreen LCD monitors soon,” 11/27/2006

The rumor: Apple, among other companies, plans to release a 17″ desktop display by the end of 2006 or the first quarter of 2007.

The source: “industry sources”

The upshot: Apple releases no such product, then or later.


The Digitimes Story:Apple and HP to launch LED-based notebooks, Taiwan LED makers unlikely to benefit much, say sources,” 1/3/2007

The rumor: Apple will start selling laptops that use LED backlighting in the second quarter of the year.

The source: “industry sources”

The upshot: Hey, it does!


The Digitimes story:15.4-inch MacBooks to begin shipping in 2Q, say sources,” 2/15/2007

The rumor: In the second quarter of 2007, Apple will release a MacBook with a 15.4″ screen. It’ll join the 13.3″ MacBook and 15.4″ and 17″ MacBook Pros in the company’s portable lineup.

The source: “industry sources in Taiwan”

The upshot: Apple releases an updated version of the existing 15.4″ MacBook Pro in the second quarter. But it never introduces a plain MacBook at that screen size.


The Digitimes story:Apple reportedly to postpone Leopard to support Windows Vista,” 3/23/2007

The rumor: Apple will delay the release of OS X 10.5 Leopard from April to October so its Boot Camp feature can support Windows Vista out of the box.

The source: “industry sources”

The upshot: Apple does postpone Leopard’s release until October. But it says that it’s doing so because it needs to borrow some OS X engineers to finish up work on the iPhone.


The Digitimes story:NAND flash-based iPod video to put strain on supply, say component makers,” 8/6/2007

The rumor: A new iPod based on NAND flash memory will introduce video playback.

The source: “sources at Taiwan-based component makers”

The upshot: Apple does announce flash-based iPods with video playback in September — both the iPod Touch and the first iPod Nano with that capability.


The Digitimes story:Apple reportedly considering Intel platform for iPhone,” 10/3/2007

The rumor: Apple may use an Intel “Moorestown” processor designed for “MID” (Mobile Internet Device) gadgets in an upcoming iPhone.

The source: “OEM sources”

The upshot: If Apple considers making an Intel iPhone, it doesn’t move forward with the idea.


The Digitimes story:MEMS gyroscopes to find their way into smartphones in 2009,” 12/11/2008

The rumor: In 2009, Apple (and other companies) will put gyroscopes into their smartphones.

The upshot: Apple does add a gyroscope to the iPhone — but only in 2010, with the iPhone 4.


The Digitimes story: “Wintek to supply touch panels for Apple netbook, says paper,” 3/9/2009

The rumor: Apple has a deal with Taiwan’s Wintek to supply touch screens for a new netbook.

The source: a report in The Commercial Times, another paper that publishes a lot of Digitimes-like gossip — but only in Chinese, sadly

The upshot: A false alarm, unless you consider the iPad to be a netbook.


The Digitimes story:Foxlink developing micro projectors for handsets, say sources,” 7/6/2009

The rumor: A Taiwanese company is finishing work on microprojectors which Apple and other companies will reportedly build into phones in the second half of the year.

The source: “sources with Taiwanese handset makers”

The upshot: Apple still hasn’t released any products with built-in projectors.


The Digitimes story:Apple tablet PC reportedly delayed until 2H10, with OLED model now included,” 11/19/2009

The rumor: Apple is delaying the release of its unannounced tablet from March until the second half of the year. It’ll offer a 9.7″ OLED-screen model for around $1200-$1500 and a 10.6″ LCD one for about $800-$100. Subsidies for 3G contracts could bring the prices down.

The source: “sources from component makers”

The upshot: This story almost has more errors than it does sentences.


The Digitimes story:Apple to launch 22-inch touch-enabled all-in-one PC in 2010, says paper,” 1/18/2010

The rumor: In 2010, Apple will start selling a 22″ Mac with a touch screen — its first Mac so equipped. (Steve Jobs himself had said in the past that touch interfaces didn’t make sense for conventional PCs.)

The source: The Commercial Times

The upshot: Apple still hasn’t released any touch-screen Macs.

The Digitimes story:Apple reportedly planning a smaller-size iPad for 1Q11, says Digitimes Research,” 4/8/2010

The rumor: Apple plans to launch an iPad with a 5-to-7″ screen, selling for under $400, as soon as the first quarter of 2011. It’ll be a more reading-centric device than the current iPad.

The source: a report by analyst Mingchi Kuo of Digitimes’ own research arm, based on information from “upstream component sources”

The upshot: More than two years later, Digitimes is still saying that the dinky iPad is coming soon.


The Digitimes story:Apple said to use OLED in second-generation iPad,” 4/19/2010

The rumor: Apple’s second-generation iPad will sport an OLED screen instead of an LCD.

The evidence: reports from “sources in the component industry”

The upshot: As Digitimes’ own analyst Mingchi Kuo points out, the rumor seems far-fetched given the cost of OLEDs. The second-gen iPad and its successor both use LCDs.


The Digitimes story:Apple readies 11.6-inch MacBook Air and new iPod touch,” 7/15/2010

The rumor(s): Apple is planning to release an especially thin, light MacBook Air with an 11.6″ display in the second half of 2010, as well as a new iPod Touch with a 3-megapixel camera (capable of shooting both still images and video) and an A4 processor, which will show up in August or September.

The source: Digitimes Research’s Mingchi Kuo

The upshot: Apple does release an 11.6″ Air in October. In September, it introduces a new iPod Touch with an A4 CPU and a rear camera that does still images and video, but its resolution is a skimpy .6 megapixels, not 4 megapixels.


The Digitimes story: Apple prepares three versions of iPad 2 for 2011, says sources,” 12/28/2010

The rumor: In 2011, Apple will release three iPad 2 variants — Wi-Fi only, plus UTMS (as on AT&T) and CDMA (Verizon) versions.

The source: “industry sources”

The upshot: It does.


The Digitimes story:Apple to up iPad 2 resolution to 2048 by 1536,” 1/20/2011

The rumor: Apple’s second-generation tablet, which is about to go into production, will quadruple the pixels by boosting resolution to 2048 by 1536 (also known as 1536 by 2048).

The source: “sources from upstream component makers”

The upshot: Digitimes is just off by a year –it’s the 2012 iPad that introduced a Retina display.


The Digitimes story: Apple to expand iPhone screen size to 4-inches,” 2/15/2011

The rumor: Apple plans to increase the screen size of the fifth-generation iPhone from 3.5″ to 4″.

The source: “upstream component suppliers”

The upshot: The fifth-generation iPhone — better known as the iPhone 4s — has a 3.5″ screen.


The Digitimes story:iPhone 5 to have smaller than 4-inch panel, say sources,” 8/29/2011

The rumor: The scuttlebutt that Digitimes reported in February that Apple’s iPhone 5 would have a 4″-plus display is wrong; it’ll have a screen that’s 3.5″-to-3.7″, a metal back and a thinner bezel that makes the screen look bigger.

The source: “sources from upstream panel suppliers”

The upshot: Well, if by “iPhone 5″ Digitimes means the phone that is released in October as the iPhone 4s, the part about the display possibly being 3.5″ is correct. But the phone doesn’t have a metal back or a thinner bezel; instead, it retains the iPhone 4 design.


The Digitimes story: Components for new 15-inch ultra-thin MacBook to start shipping in November,” 11/15/2011

The rumor: Apple will ship a new, thin laptop with a 15″ screen — which could be either a bigger MacBook Air or a svelter MacBook Pro — in either March or the second quarter of 2012 (the article seems to make both predictions).

The source: “sources from the upstream supply chain”

The upshot: March comes and goes without Apple announcing a new 15″ portable. But the second quarter of 2012 won’t end until June 30, so there’s still plenty of time for Digitimes to turn out to be correct.


The Digitimes story:Apple to launch 7.85-inch iPad in 2012, say sources,” 12/16/2011

The rumor: Apple is probably going to release an iPad with a 7.85″ screen before the fourth quarter of 2012.

The source: “sources in the supply chain”

The upshot: It hasn’t yet — but if it does any time before October, you heard it from Digitimes first.


The Digitimes story:Apple suppliers to start preparing materials for iTV in 1Q12, say sources,” 12/27/2011

The rumor: In the second or third quarter of 2012, Apple will release 32″ and 37″ TV sets.

The source: “industry sources”

The upshot: It could take up to four and a half months before we know if this one is fact or fantasy.


The Digitimes story:Apple to unveil two versions of next-generation iPad in January, sources claim,” 12/29/2011

The rumor: At January’s iWorld conference, Apple will announce two new iPads, both with 9.7″ 1536-by-2048 screens. One will be a midrange model with a 5-megapixel camera; the other will be a high-end version with an 8-megapixel camera.

The source: “sources at [Apple’s] supply chain partners”

The upshot: Predicting that Apple is going to announce anything at iWorld — a conference which the company famously jilted back when it was called Macworld Expo — is a truly perverse gambit. It doesn’t, of course. And when it does hold its own iPad event in March, it unveils only one model, with a 5-megapixel camera.


The Digitimes story:Apple to ship ‘iPad 3′ in March, ‘iPad 4′ in October, say Taiwan component makers,” 1/6/2012

The rumor: In March, Apple will release the ” iPad 3,” which will have a 1536-by-2048 screen and longer battery life; in October, it’ll unveil the iPad 4, which will keep the 9.7″ screen but add “much improved” hardware and apps.

The source: “industry sources in Taiwan”

The upshot: The part about the “iPad 3″ is right; anyone want to make any predictions about Digitimes’ iPad-4-in-October prediction?

Whew!

By my count, 16 of these 25 stories turned out to be mostly or completely off-base. Five are largely or entirely correct. And four involve predictions that might yet come true. I wouldn’t obsess over the percentages — my sampling may or may not be representative of Digitimes’ Apple articles as a whole. But you get the idea.

What else did I learn, judging from the stories I reviewed?

Mundane or logical-sounding Digitimes rumors usually amount to more than eyebrow-raising ones. If it says that Apple’s going to use LED backlighting in MacBooks or add video playback to iPods — well, there’s a decent chance that Apple will. But if it reports that the company will ditch LCDs for OLEDs or equip Macs with touch-screens, don’t assume that its sources know what they’re talking about.

Rumors from parts suppliers are imprecise, even when there’s something there. When Digitimes first wrote about iPhones with gyroscopes and iPads with Retina displays, the main thing it got wrong was the timing — they showed up a year after it expected them to arrive.

Digitimes rarely does anything other than to simply pass along gossip it’s heard. It almost always relays rumors without any analysis or context that might help readers gauge them. At least I only found one instance — when it reported on an alleged OLED iPad — when it expressed any skepticism.

Speaking of skepticism, even the reporters and bloggers who run disclaimers about Digitimes’ track record when they regurgitate its stories are treating it too gingerly. If they simply ignored every rumor that originated at the site until someone else had independently verified it, they’d raise the collective quality of journalism about unreleased Apple products. And if they refuse to be cynical about Digitimes scoops, the people who read their work should be.

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