Keep taking the revolutionary tablets

Talking Carl: hero of the revolution

As we put our feet up and mix the first martini of the weekend, we turn our thoughts to what the next week has in store for us. If you’ve been reading the blogs you’ll know that we are on the verge of a revolution. Thanks to Apple’s tablet computer nothing will ever be the same ever again, except for the 10 million people in the UK who have never used the internet, the one third of Europeans who haven’t either, or the 4 billion people in the world who’ve never even used a phone (let alone used one to download an app to tell them where the nearest sushi bar is). But, in the developed world, we organise our revolutions around the availability of consumer electronics these days.

I thought I’d look into how good Apple and Microsoft have been at getting us to mount the barricades for their respective revolutions.

The first chart shows how well, over the last 10 years, the companies have been doing at converting claims that they are revolutionary into news stories that agree with the premise. I restricted this to technology news in newspapers. The line zigs about a bit, but as you can see Microsoft wasn’t making much headway until last year. Windows 7 seems to have got journalists a bit excited – although the line shoots up mostly because there were far fewer Microsoft press releases claiming a revolution than there were in 2008 (when it did nothing particularly revolutionary at all, but was twice as likely to claim that it did).

The second chart takes claims for revolution in any year and subtracts Microsoft’s coverage from Apple’s. If the dot is in the top half of the graph, Apple is winning. In the bottom half, it’s Microsoft. It shows that while journalists are more comfortable saying that Apple was starting a revolution (purple line: top half for the whole decade), Apple’s PR too (orange line) is becoming increasingly comfortable with this particular example of meaningless hyperbole. At the beginning of the decade Apple almost never claimed to be revolutionary. Now, perhaps encouraged by the willingness of journalists to pass on the message, it is three times as likely as Microsoft to claim its products are revolutionary.

In the interests of full disclosure, I’m typing this on my iMac while syncing iTunes with my iPhone. I just paid 59p for an iPhone app that displays the little red fella at the top of the post (he’s called Carl). In its own way this app is revolutionary: when I say things to my phone such as “Only an educated and productive people can be truly free,” or “Not a grain of sand will we yield to imperialism,” Carl says it back to me in a cartoon voice while waving his little fist. You can also tickle him.

I’m sure that in the old days we would wait until we had actually seen the product before we decided that something was going to cause a revolution (The Segway, of course, was an exception). Meanwhile if the breathless anticipation of Apple’s iThing continues in the press, Microsoft’s going to spend another year being less revolutionary than Apple. Maybe that’s what happens when you’ve been the status quo for ever.

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8 Responses to “Keep taking the revolutionary tablets”


  1. 1 Helen Ridgway January 22, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Could it be that the increase in technology revolutions stems from the rising trend to ‘redefine’ things. Only this morning a major IT vendor redefined power and functionality… and earlier in the month another redefined performance

    I think in years gone by they might have ‘improved’ these things but today they are redefined. I haven’t of course done any proper research into this so I’m not in a position to suggest how many ‘redefinings’ lead to a revolution. But I think there might be a link.

  2. 2 Kate Stevens January 22, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    I have a hunch there’s also a relationship between revolution, redefining and paradigm shift’s. I think a whitepaper is required.

    • 3 Helen Ridgway January 22, 2010 at 4:06 pm

      Excellent idea! Given the step-change in thinking here we will need to form a working group and fully consult with all stakelholders. It will be a substantive work, in fact an order of magnitude more substantive than anything previously available.

      Tim – What budget did you have in mind for this ground-breaking piece of research?

  3. 4 Tim Phillips January 22, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    Aha! I’d overlooked redefinition. Did they say what they had redefined them as?

    • 5 Helen Ridgway January 22, 2010 at 4:31 pm

      Hmmm… it’s not easy to tell. However thay have had help in the redefining process from a computer notebook “tailor-made for today’s urbane individual”

  4. 6 Tim Phillips January 22, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    I know it’s bad form to comment to your own comment on your own blog, but I’ve just noticed that in the second graph that the PR claim of revolutionaryness becomes a pretty good leading indicator for what the press will write the next year: that is, a big Microsoft push on how revolutionary it is in year 1 coincides with a lessening of Apple’s advantage in year 2, even though the products the press would be writing about would be different (Just shift the orange graph along by 12 months in your head).

    But it’s a small enough sample that this could just be a coincidence, and I’m not enough of a stats nerd to get any deeper into this when there’s a weekend to be had instead.

    Nevertheless I’m drawing a conclusion: if you want journalists to believe that you are going to be shifting some paradigms in 2011, you need to start bullshitting right away. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know what you’re going to be doing in 2011 yet, because the pre-existing impression of a revolutionary attitude would be the important thing, not the importance of what you’re doing.

    Good job Kate’s called for a white paper and Helen is offering a handsome budget. This will be important, dare I say revolutionary, work.

    • 7 Chris Long January 27, 2010 at 12:35 pm

      Thing is, come this revolution, who is going to be first up against the wall?

      My pitch is the dozy sods that scribble ‘it’s revolutionary’ on the top of every tree friendly press release that comes via their inbox. And then next up are the ‘dozy sods’ that don’t contact the previous dozy sods for writing such piffle with reference to their tree friendly press release.

      Meanwhile the general public, hyped up over the talk of revolution, are milling around the Bastille looking like a bemused flash mob.

      The result: more work for journalists reporting revolutions, more work for PRs inciting revolutions and more work for the bailiffs as each revolution goes tits up taking the workers bank accounts with them.

      Oh yes and Apple and Microsoft post quarterly revenues of $15bn each.

      Now there’s a revolution


  1. 1 Redefining the envelope « talk normal Trackback on February 15, 2010 at 10:40 am

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