I figured out the reason I find tech punditry – I guess punditry in general – distasteful.
I’m writing the first draft of this post in the afterglow of the Apple Watch event, as they announced bigger iPhones and Apple Pay. Of course, all of these announcements have been leaked: the manufacturing pipeline has long since gotten ahead of Apple announcements; a new smart watch has been rumored for years; leaks of business talks as well as patents preceded their foray into payments. As Apple undoubtedly knows, genuine surprise is really hard when there’s so much attention paid to product launches.
Of course, after the announcements are made, the journalists who make their living chasing leaks are busy recalling past predictions and congratulating themselves for “predicting” the company’s product roadmap. As they spend an inordinate amount of time reading tea leaves on new products and the natural evolution of the existing lineup, it’s probably natural to leverage that work for further clout and pageviews. Speculation – even fun, somewhat baseless, and mostly inconsequential guesswork – can still be profitable personally and professionally.
The distasteful aspect is that these pundits are effectively monetizing predictions with partial, incomplete information, without having to worry about the difficulty in doing the actual work. That is, building products is an exercise in execution with a multitude of constraints: whether it’s the industry’s meta-climate, the teams and people and personalities, the timelines and investments, or just the technical execution of an idea, a product’s success or even launch is much more complicated than what the official marketing message is trying to deliver.
Even worse, it only takes a minuscule amount of this knowledge to establish added credibility. It may have taken John Gruber a few days to calculate probable new iPhone screen resolutions, but in reality, a cross-functional team likely spent years to agree and implement a specification which encompasses software, hardware, and design engineering tradeoffs. It’s certainly easier to conjure back-of-the-napkin numbers and simplify the work (and the people) involved, but that’s just another form of appropriating outsized credit for tangential association.
Admittedly, hard work alone does not guarantee success; product developers should be given credit for what they build, but the market determines whether that work pays off. And while pundits in general do very little of the work, they do invest their time in self-marketing and being more accessible. That people keep looking to pundits for commentary means that they provide some value; I just wish they weren’t given so much credit for providing simplified, inaccurate insight from the sidelines.