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.