OPINION22 January 2010

This year’s revolution. Or one of them, anyway

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

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 a little red alien 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.