John C. Dvorak: Why I Said The iPhone Was Going To Bomb

John C. Dvorak: Why I Said The iPhone Was Going To Bomb

Tech journalists make bad calls all the time, but few tech writers have made such a blisteringly bad call as seasoned columnist John C. Dvorak, who famously predicted back in 2007 that “Apple should pull the plug on the iPhone… [because it is just] going to be another phone in a crowded market.”

D’oh. $150 billion in revenue later, the iPhone is the biggest success Apple has ever had, and revolutionized pretty much every single aspect of the smartphone and even telecom business. That’s quite the missed prediction, even by tech journalist standards.

So what does Dvorak have to say to explain himself? Was it just a brain fart, or what? Five years later, Dvorak has explained why he said the iPhone would be a dud, and his excuse is fascinating: he claims he got it wrong because of a conspiracy against tech journalists like him who were too honest about Apple for their own good.

Over on NetworkWorld, Dvorak explains what he thinks happened:

Apple had a policy – and still does, NOT to even talk to anyone who has annoyed Steve Jobs in the past or present. They are blackballed. Other writers who are careful never to be more than only critical in an Apple approved way get full access as long as they tow the line. Everyone in the business knows who is blackballed and who isn’t. The ones who aren’t may as well work for Apple.

So I was genuinely caught off guard with these columns where I really didn’t know anything except the miserable history of the smart phone, and I was kept in the dark by people who did know and who had all signed rigid non-disclosures. These documents should never be signed by reporters but many do it for the edge they get. So even if Apple were to show me the device I would not have been able to say or do anything except to say it was remarkable.

Avoiding these corrupt practices such as non-disclosures leaves me vulnerable when I’m trying to predict the outcome of a strategy with a product that is sight unseen. It is all theory at that point and it did not work out this time, to say the least. This column is a constant reminder. Since I’ve written over 4,500 articles over the last 30 years I would hope that people look at the track record. I blew it about six times in a major way like this. I do not consider that bad.

It’s true that when your living is to make a prediction about tech, you’re going to get it wrong — majorly wrong — at least a few times in your career. I, for example, once thought the MacBook Air would never give netbooks a run for their money, and while I understand why I wrote that at the time (this was before the 2010 overhaul, and before the iPad), well, I’m typing these words on a 2012 11-inch MacBook Air right now.

Dvorak’s also correct that Apple blackballs certain journalists and publications it doesn’t like, although they are no different in this than almost any tech company (if a little more willing to do so). Even so, though, it’s pretty hard to understand how he could have gotten this one so wrong, even without access to the device. It was clear to pretty much everyone right off the bat that the iPhone had completely rethought the way we should interact with our smartphones, and their role in the kingdom of tech. You had to be absolutely blind not to see that Steve Jobs had just dropped an A-bomb on the industry.

What do you think of Dvorak’s excuse? Let us know in the comments.

  • emoraz

    John C. Dvorak was an idiot in the past, is a moron today, and will be remembered as a first class idiot/moron in the future. Period.

  • stevejarrett

    Well as an excuse it just blames Apple for his failure, and this probably just points to the reason why he predicted this so wrongly in the first place. He clearly has no love for Apple, and was writing what he felt should happen, without examining the facts. Especially in tech the facts are easier to obtain, and he should have done a little diligence before publishing what he did. Letting his anti-Apple bias skew his views was not the way to go.

    • feloneouscat

      Dvorak has actively hated on the Mac since, well, since 1984!

      The Macintosh uses an experimental pointing device called a “mouse”. There is no evidence that people want to use these things. I don’t want one of these new fangled devices. – John C. Dvorak

      It’s no wonder he makes mistakes, over and over again. This is someone who is lamenting the passing of XP!

      It has puzzled me that he has a job writing about technology when, in fact, he appears to have no love for it – much less for anything “new fangled”.

  • TinyElvis

    It was pretty obvious during the demo that this was a huge game-changer. Though he did get the switch to Intel right back in 2003: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,933453,00.asp buy my favorite was the Steve Ballmer prediction for the iphone. Still a classic.

  • ronaldhennessy

    Dvorak is the one reason why I can’t stand This Week in Tech anymore. His opinions are whiny and outdated. Someone else take the seat.

  • nonaligned

    Doesn’t Dvorak clearly say that he made his prediction without having seen the iPhone (as he was not permitted to do so)? So it seemed “clear to pretty much everyone right off the bat that the iPhone had completely rethought the way we should interact with our smartphones”? What does “RIGHT OFF THE BAT” mean–you think that it should have been clear BEFORE THE IPHONE HAD BEEN SEEN that Apple was going revolutionize the smartphone? REALLY? I love my Macs (all 6 of them), but you guys are really cultists in the worst sense of the word.

    • feloneouscat

      Doesn’t Dvorak clearly say that he made his prediction without having seen the iPhone

      Dvorak has made nasty predictions about Apple for decades. Just for your amusement:

      The idea that Apple would ditch its own OS for Microsoft Windows came to me from Yakov Epstein, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University, who wrote to me convinced that the process had already begun. – JCD 2006

      Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Canonical, publishers of Ubuntu, has given up on the idea that Linux (which Ubuntu is based on) will ever supplant Windows, saying that if any OS will be the next big thing it’s Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android. – JCD 2013

      Oh, yeah, Android is BASED ON LINUX. Is he really a technology writer?

      Apple had a policy – and still does, NOT to even talk to anyone who has annoyed Steve Jobs in the past or present. They are blackballed. Other writers who are careful never to be more than only critical in an Apple approved way get full access as long as they tow the line. Everyone in the business knows who is blackballed and who isn’t. The ones who aren’t may as well work for Apple.

      If you had been a REAL technology writer, you would have gone “oh, the mouse, that’s interesting”. Instead you went “oh, mouse is bad. Apple sucks.” And you did it for DECADES. Can’t imagine why they would find him an odious person.

      Dvorak needs to retire. He doesn’t really like technology.

  • RagingManiac

    Only hindsight bias can say that the iPhone would be an “obvious” success. The fact is, no one knew for sure. That’s why we have tech columnists. If they were omniscient, they would never be wrong. If we were omniscient, we’d never need to read their columns. If we expect them to predict disasters and outrageous successes with 100 percent accuracy, we should stop bothering to read them. By the same token, if a writer claims to be able to predict future events and misses the mark on the biggest ones, why does he bother to keep score? “I didn’t let you know the train was going to run you over, but I predicted the arrival time correctly on 45,000 other occasions.” Give me a break! Folks, none of the emperors are wearing clothes. Wise up.

  • Bagnegaard

    His right … I reviewed a few macbooks in the past, and got them from Apple, but the last one I got, 2010 Macbook unibody, I only gave 5/6 stars, I haven’t heard from Apple since.
    Molly Wood explained that she was called up by Apple PR and yelled at to change her review.
    Apple PR are not douchebags, the real douchebags are the journalists how comply.

    Though Dvorak’s excuse isn’t that great :)

  • infin1023

    Don’t we love this guy? For a tech writer like him, always make wrong prediction, but still make a living out of it for soooo long.

  • cpmorris0

    Excuses can be very well crafted when you have 5 years to think of one.

  • nefan65

    He’s an idiot. He doesn’t like Apple, so he writes pithy articles about them. He also said the iPad was going to be a failure in 2010. Now the iPad sets the bar for any/all future tablets.

    How these people get $$$ for writing crap is beyond me. He knows nothing…

  • ZeusCarver

    Here’s a novel idea John. Try the iPhone on it’s launch day (like a normal person) and then write a review. Us dumb consumers figured it would be great from the intro and knew for sure when it launched. Get out of the cubicle and mix with the masses and you’ll be able to make better judgements.

  • ConstableOdo

    He’s no worse than the supposed analyst known as Scott Moritz who called the iPad the iFlop and said that there was nothing special about the iPad and it would likely fail to gain traction in the crowded tablet market and that the JooJoo was clearly superior. These people are just knuckleheads believing that they know everything about the consumer and their whims. Who really gives a damn what these stooges think? They’re only individuals in a huge consumer world and their opinions aren’t worth spit.

  • Shane Bryson

    I would just like to point out that the MacBook Air has not at all competed with netbooks. The iPad has, but not the Air. In fact, that air is the one Apple product that I cannot support or understand why it exists. For some reason Apple fans keep buying them and it has given way to the Ultra-book like line of PC’s coming from various companies, instead of competing directly with netbooks. I went out and bought the last iteration of the white unibody MacBook, when it looked like it was being retired and the Air would take it’s place. Why? Because the Air is a COMPLETE waste of money. For the most part, the only option Apple has as far as real laptops are concerned now, is the Pro series.

  • zagatosz

    A questionable writer with questionable intelligence that can’t admit he made a mistake.

  • Bob Forsberg

    Dvorak’s excuses parallel his knowledge and reviews of Apple product…..its just noise.

  • irish2u2

    Dvorak has always been an arrogant so and so making this “excuse” predictable. It’s always somebody else. For the longest time it was plain to see he had an agenda against Apple. It likely was a 2 way street because Apple has a terrible reputation of being petty with the media but it was Dvorak’s job to take the higher ground. If he didn’t know anything about the iPhone he should have tempered his remarks but let me say a whole bunch of people with no inside access and going off Apple’s reputation for innovation, excellence and out of the box thinking knew the iPhone would be a hit. I’m not shocked we all know more than Dvorak.

  • davester13

    That is a total load of bull. He does those kind of articles just for the page hits he gets from Apple users wondering how stupid can he be.

  • Javier

    It is interesting that John Dvorak admits what I always suspected. He got it wrong because he did not know what he was talking about. He can blame Apple – if he wants – for not providing enough information to make an astute evaluation. He can only blame himself for making an evaluation without enough information. He chose not to wait.

  • Brian Parker

    Dvorak has been know for “robust” opinions in the past, which I’m not averse to – Apple needs a kick up the arse from time to time. Not being man enough to say he got it wrong is a disappointment, as is his usage of “tow the line”. A professional writer should surely know that it’s “toe the line”.

  • lwdesign1

    This article ignores Dvorak’s history of “journalism” about Apple. Dvorak has CONSISTENTLY been highly critical of nearly every product, move and decision made by Apple and Steve Jobs. He has aggressively predicted the death of Apple many times and has routinely attempted to marginalize the company at every turn. His self-serving “explanation” of how it’s all Apple’s fault that he (Dvorak) repeatedly made completely bone-headed predictions of the iPhone’s death is yet another in a very long string of critical articles. Dvorak can’t take any responsibility whatsoever for his actions and must blame others when he’s wrong to deflect any culpability. He’s just bad news, and not even fun to read.

    He used to write monthly articles for MacUser Magazine before it amalgamated with MacWorld, and I eventually stopped reading the tripe he ground out each month. He seems incapable of praising anything good coming out of Apple despite its runaway success. I can’t recall a single article that Dvorak wrote about Apple that wasn’t a mean-spirited jab at the company. He ranks up there with Rob Enderle as my two favorite Nostradumbasses (with thanks to the Macalope for that term) who are consistently wrong about Apple but who forge ahead bravely ignoring Apple’s amazing products and how they have captured the imagination of the world.

  • Harvey Lubin

    Dvorak: “It wasn’t my fault. Apple makes me say stupid things.” ;-)

  • yoxyvo

    Dvorak has always been an ars clown for IT. Back when he did CNET Central I would blow milk from my nose on some of his comments.

  • trex67

    Paranoid and nearly always wrong. He should work for FOX News.

  • FilthyMacNasty

    Dvorak and his pal Paul Thurrott (who called the iPad the “iDud”) couldn’t predict what they’re going to have for lunch. Card carrying idiots.

  • zviivz

    After 5 years? Lame …

  • nolavabo

    Dvorak predicted in 1984 that the Mac would fail because the mouse was too experimental. It went on to change the way that every computer was used.

    On the iPhone he wrote that “There is no likelihood that Apple can be successful in a business this competitive”. Not only did Apple succeed, but it rewrote the book on what a phone should be.

    And after that genius call, he said the iPad would also fail to take tablets mainstream. He listed its number one failing as a lack of a stylus.

    Anybody see a pattern emerging here?

    While it’s true that he wrote the first two pieces before using the products, the iPad opinion was written months after its launch. He still got it 180 degrees wrong. Is it really the lack of access, or is there something wrong in his head?

  • John Howell

    He is right more often than he is wrong. I still like his much more pessimistic viewpoint to compare against the fanboy post when it comes to Apple. After all, what about all those pundits claiming Apple is going to make a TV, without any proof of any such thing.

  • C Rod

    So let me understand this better…. Without even having seen the iPhone, Dvorak still decided to publish his a-hole sized opinion. And he blames Apple for his missed prediction. Thousands of rights don’t make one big wrong forgettable.

  • marco_1959

    Dvorak (and Cult of Mac) come off as colossal crybabies: he didn’t get it wrong because he got it wrong, it’s because Apple is mean to him. Maybe both should stick to reporting on Android, for which they both have a marked preference.

  • tcahill2

    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. I dont want one of these new fangled devices. John C. Dvorak in the San Francisco Examiner in 1984

    Here is a link to the original article. It really doesn’t wash with his excuse(s). What he is saying in the most recent article is that, “Apple won’t talk to me so I just make shit up”.

  • zeroality

    So if we listened to Dvorak, we wouldn’t have computer mice or iPhones.

  • http://codetunnel.io/ Alex Ford

    I think the key here for Dvorak would be to STOP making “predictions” about technology and actually offer up real practical reasons to back up his opinions, then let his audience decide what they think. I feel like he makes very little effort to keep his foot out of his mouth, lol.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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