Is Apple Lying With Statistics?

Aleksandra Todorova
Written 2 years ago
in Data

At Visual.ly, we are big fans of Apple’s products. Huge. At each meeting, a halo of Apple logos shines from laptop screens or stares you from the back of iPads. Out of our San Francisco team, one single person runs Windows (on their MacBook Pro, no less) and is booed for it on a regular basis. One of our cofounders upgrades all his Apple toys when the new ones come out, every single year, and will no doubt continue to do so until the day the music dies and there are no new Apple products coming out.

We love anything and everything Apple. Except this one thing.

Apple’s jobs numbers that everyone’s been tearing to parts in the last few days.

For those who haven’t followed the story, last week Apple put out a “Jobs Creation” page that, in no small font, boasts that the company is responsible for creating and supporting 514,000 jobs in the United States.

But is that really so? Or is Apple deceiving us with data? If you’ve ever come across our Code of Ethics, you know that we have vowed to never “lie with statistics.” Would Apple?

So we took to tearing Apple’s numbers apart: tracking down the original source for each piece of the data pie, and double-checking its integrity. This is what we found (visualized by Drew Skau):

 

 

In case it isn’t clear (and you can click on the image to enlarge it), let’s spell things out.

Total jobs: 514,000 Apple takes credit for 514,000 jobs in the United States, which right this second help families put bread on the table, fund college savings accounts and buy MacBooks, iPhones and iPads. This number includes:

1. Apple employees: 47,000… or less than 10% of the total.

2. Jobs at companies that work directly with Apple: 257,000. This is an estimate based on an employment multiplier (a measure developed by the Bureau of Economic Analysis that calculates how many jobs a company helps create based on how much it spends on goods and services in the country). Here, supposedly we have people who work in the manufacturing of materials, components and equipment for Apple products; consumer sales; transportation (i.e. the UPS and FedEx truck drivers that will deliver your iPad 3 once it comes out); business sales and healthcare. (Honestly, we don’t know why healthcare is included.)

3. App economy jobs: 210,000. This is where the fun begins. To get the 210,000 number, Apple started with a survey, commissioned by TechNet, a lobbying group for the tech industry, and published in February 2012. The survey estimated the App economy, or tech and non-tech jobs created to develop and support the marketplace for apps, at a total of 466,000. It arrived at this number after several assumptions, which boil down to the following:

  • In the 90-day period leading to Dec 31, 2011, there were 44,000 non-duplicated ads containing one (or more) of the following keywords: Android, app, blackberry, Facebook API, iOS, iPhone, Windows Mobile, Windows jobs.
  • Based on that number and an estimated ratio of 3.5 tech jobs existing for each want ad, the survey estimates 155,000 tech jobs in the App economy.
  • Based on an estimated ratio of 1:1 for tech to non-tech jobs, the survey allocates 155,000 non-tech jobs to the App economy.
  • Finally, based on a conservative 1.5 multiplier, the survey estimates 156,000 “spillover” jobs that exist thanks to the existence of apps and the App economy.

Fast forward five weeks, to February  7, 2012, when the report was published. At that time, Apple says it took that exact same survey methodology (key words, ratios, multipliers and all), searched the job ads at the Conference Board HWOL database (same as the survey), and determined that 45% of the “app economy” jobs were, in fact, related to iOS or the iPhone.

Forty-five percent of 466,000 is 210,000.

But that’s not all. By the TechNet survey’s own admission, those app economy jobs include, among others, app-infrastructure jobs at Google, Amazon and… yes, Apple. How many of Apple’s own employees (part of that 47,000 number) are also part of the “App economy”? We don’t know – and does it really matter?

The point is, with all these assumptions based on assumptions and calculations based on calculations, topped with duplicate counting, we have to disagree — really disagree — with Apple’s numbers and methodology. Lying with statistics isn’t cool.

And that’s about it. Rather than debating this further (let’s leave that to the economists and sociologists), we will eagerly await Apple’s March 7 announcement and, when the iPad 3 hits the stores, we will without a doubt line up to satisfy our craving for the company’s latest toy. No one makes ‘em better, we think.

Aleksandra Todorova is the Editorial Director at Visual.ly, a proud user of an iPad, iPhone, MacBook Pro and several iPods, and a frequent visitor at the local Apple store.