The problem with crystal balls

Posted: 09.02.10
What was the first PC with touch?

Twice this past week I was confronted with soothsayers, magicians, and fortune tellers—you know—industry analysts and company guidance managers. One of the problems with having grown up in this industry (but, I’d like to point out, not being grown up thank you) is that you’ve heard and seen it before—a state that feels something like Run Lola Run, Groundhog Day, and déjà-vu.

A highly involved, if not evolved, friend called the other day to bemoan the Rodney Dangerfield treatment S3D seems to be getting from the press, and a few commissioned analysts. Seems those hired guns had discovered the consumers don’t really want and may not like S3D.

Really? Hmmm, now who would commission such a study—maybe someone who has a warehouse full of old TVs and needs to unload them before the consumer starts snapping up the new 240Hz big screen S3D ready sets. Nah, I’m sure it was a totally objective and well documented survey based on solid methodology. Something like this: Hey Mr. Joe 6-pack (or Joe the plumber—no matter) do you think it’s likely you’ll be buying a $4,000 big screen TV that requires you to wear glasses and may make you nauseous? No? See, Harry? That’s another one—QED (quod erat demonstrandum).

What I tried to explain to my distraught friend is that I saw the exact same surveys when audio CDs were introduced, when DVDs were introduced, when 5.1 audio came to market, and even when LCD and plasma screens were announced—oh, and HD, forgetaboudit—never gonna happen.

S3D (if the content doesn’t fail us) is about as inevitable as color TV and sound in the movies. And all that these nay saying surveys prove is that some analysts firms know how to sell.

And then there’s the forecasting of the PC market. As we were dusting ourselves off in early 2010 and feeling pretty good about still being alive, we were criticized by the big shots at Intel, and to a lesser extent AMD, and others, for being so conservative. “That’s not what we’re seeing,” said one of the managers. And another said to us, leaning over the stage, “You know, it might surprise you to learn that some people actually read what you write.” I knew immediately he wasn’t talking to me, and felt sorry for the big firms who were going to have a separate private meeting. Intel execs were concerned that the big (sometimes read) research firms might be an unwitting pawn in a case of self-filling prophecy, a kind of, if you say it, they won’t come.

So miraculously those big firms suddenly raised their forecasts from sub 10% for the year to just under 20%—an amazing 100% growth—here, fulfill that! We, not being read or of any interest to the WSJ, or participants in the supply chain, stayed with our modest 11-13%.

And now it’s Monday morning—Again! And what do we read? Intel expects to make $1 billion less in revenue in the third quarter and says its revenues could be as low as $10.8 billion, blaming consumer PC sales in “mature markets” for the reduction in expected revenues. Hmm, so it’s not the economics in Europe this time, or the deficit, or jobs, or misalignment of the outer planets, it’s those damn consumers who don’t want to buy any more stuff that’s no different than the old stuff they already have and isn’t working. What the hell is wrong with them? Haven’t they heard about S3D, hyper-threading, DirectX 11 and transcoding?

The irony of it all is that the supply chain is so hyper-tight and so reactive that it can turn, stop, jump, run, on a snap of a twig—and that is what it is doing. I asked a senior VP at HP the other night if it was true what JPMorgan said that HP was canceling orders in Taiwan. Aside from not appreciating the question and wanting to get home he said, “Look we cancel orders in Taiwan every week—and we place a lot too.” And that’s the root of the problem—we can’t get any long term vision because the supply line is too short and too fast today. Something the suppliers have been working on for the past twenty years­—is this a case of being careful what you wish for?

What was the first PC with touch?

The HP-150 personal computer featured a touch-sensitive screen that allowed users to activate a feature by touching the screen. The PC had an MS-DOS operating system and an Intel 8088 microprocessor. The HP-150 was introduced with twin 3-1/2 inch HP 9121 disc drives—the first commercially available 3-1/2 inch floppy-disk drives in the United States. These drives were less expensive, more reliable and held the same amount of information as the 5-1/4 inch IBM-compatible drives.

The system was put on the market in 1983.