A while back there was some confusion over Samsung's "shipped" vs. "sold" numbers for their then-new Galaxy Tab tablet. Samsung, like most companies that aren't Apple, doesn't regularly report numbers. Some "analysts" and "outlets" are more concerned with pushing an agenda or grabbing sensational headlines than figuring out the actual numbers. So, Samsung was generally credited with selling 2 million Galaxy Tabs in 6 weeks and Apple, as a result, with losing 20% share of the tablet market. Now, thanks to the ongoing Apple vs. Samsung trial, we have some real data to reflect on. Philip Elmer-DeWitt writing for Fortune:
When Strategy Analytics was telling the world that Samsung sold 2 million Galaxy Tabs in six weeks, the truth was that it took Samsung all of 2011 to sell half that many. See attached graphic.
Samsung doing everything they can to obfuscate numbers is also completely understandable. They've proven time and time again they're not out to win an ethical business of the year award. They're out to win the market. They'll copy Apple designs for their early product, they'll hire people to spam message boards, and they'll leak out highly confusing numbers to garner the headlines they want to mold the perception they need to do just that. Their job isn't to win our respect. It's to ruthlessly push their products.
It's the old business maxim of, "if you're not cheating, you're not trying." Or, the Judo Gene Labelle strategy of, "if you can't win, cheat. Hell, cheat anyway." It's the difference between losing nicely vs. winning by any means necessary.
That's why Apple executives like Tim Cook have switched from quoting market share numbers to usage share numbers — to get around the vast dark matter that is, apparently, tablets bought but not used for any measurable purpose. (Likely super-cheap video devices lumped into the category.) They're the numbers that make Apple look good.
It's up to Samsung's shareholders to demand clear, regular reporting on sales if that's something they want and think will benefit them as investors. It's up to us to demand better media coverage if that's something we value and consider important.
The "analysts" likely won't change their methods. They won't make consistent or segment anything that doesn't serve their narrative at this point, not until the industry matures enough to make them. Computers just aren't cars yet.
The "outlets" will happily report both the questionable numbers and their revelation because, another sensational headline and that's what they consider their jobs to be. Not to inform or explain but to rile up and ride on.
Also, this news coming out on the day of the Samsung Galaxy S5 is likely no coincidence either. Timing, as they say, is everything.
So we're left with this — unless and until other vendors report sold-to-customer numbers the way Apple does, most market share analysis won't hold much value.
If you're an investor, you'll need to find better sources of information to guide your decisions. If you're a customer, you'll need to decide what kind of company you want to support, and judge "the market" solely by which phones are in the hands of your friends, family, and co-workers.
Either way, let me know — do you care how many devices Samsung sells, and how much?