11 ways tech companies try to pull the wool over your eyes
23rd Nov 2013 | 13:01
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What tech companies love to tell you
One of the great things about the technology industry is that everyone in it tells the truth about everything all of the time.
Ha! Of course they don't: like any other massive industry, tech is responsible for more porkies than the world's horniest hard-working hogs.
From sins of omission to pretending that words don't mean what they actually mean, here are some of the ways tech firms can pull the wool over your eyes.
1. Up to 67% more graphics!
"Up to" is one of the great fibs of tech: it's used to describe broadband speeds you won't get, Wi-Fi throughput you can't achieve, performance improvements that only apply in very specific circumstances and battery life that's only possible if you don't actually use your device. It's the tech equivalent of MPG figures for cars or the RRP on supermarket wine promotions.
2. Truly unlimited limited unlimiteds
In the real world, unlimited means something isn't restricted or controlled in any way. In tech, it means quite the opposite. For years, ISPs cynically advertised unlimited broadband or data packages that had all kinds of limitations, usually in the form of data caps hidden in the small print of fair usage policies.
The British Advertising Standards Authority cracked down on such practices in 2012, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the package a firm describes as unlimited isn't subject to restrictions or controls. Restrictions or controls such as…
3.Surprisingly good benchmarks
It was rife in the PC industry and now it's turning up in the mobile market too: we're talking about manufacturers deliberately optimising their devices so that they'll score well in specific benchmarking apps. The latest culprit appears to be Samsung, whose Note 3 just happens to enter a high performance CPU mode when certain benchmarking apps are used - but Samsung isn't the only firm accused of such shenanigans.
4. The speed you need
Last month, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that UK ISP Virgin Media's website was making promises it couldn't keep.
The "unlimited" package that offered "consistently fast broadband even at peak times" was subject to a traffic management policy that could slow connections down by as much as 40%.
5. Big numbers
In March, UK high-street retailer Carphone Warehouse said that the Galaxy S4 had generated more than four times the pre-registrations as the Galaxy S3. It even quoted a figure: 446%.
That sounds amazing until you look into the figures, as The Guardian's Charles Arthur did, and discover that the numbers don't add up and the term "pre-registration" is utterly meaningless. Is a pre-registration a sale? Nope. Is it a pre-order (a meaningless term in itself)? Nope. Are our inboxes plagued with such nonsense? You betcha.
6. Showing shipments instead of sales
When you're young, you try to make yourself sound older by including fractions in your age - so you'll say you're five and a half or seven and a quarter, because that sounds older than five or seven. Tech firms do the same thing by quoting shipment numbers instead of sales.
Shipping isn't the same as selling - it means sending products out to retailers, who will then try to sell them - and when a firm brags about the former but won't talk about the latter you're usually dealing with a dud. Watch out for carefully chosen statistics too, such as "our market share is up 132% in Bogota!" accompanied by silence about the US and EU.
More lies, damned lies and statistics
7. Space for your stuff
When you buy a tablet with 64GB of storage space, you don't expect more than half of it to be unavailable - but that's exactly what happened with the Surface Pro in January thanks to Windows 8, pre-installed apps and a recovery partition taking up stacks of space.
The Surface was unusually hungry, but the issue applies to all devices with storage - so for example a 16GB iPad, which is offering a fairly small amount of storage to begin with, ships with around 13GB of available storage.
8. Phone coverage maps
It seems that mobile phone networks' coverage checkers should be called coverage guessers: some maps don't make it clear that you might not get a signal indoors, they don't reflect key factors such as building density and tree coverage, and because different operators measure signal in different ways you can't really use the maps to compare providers.
Our tip? Always make sure there's a cooling-off period if you're signing up for a network you haven't previously used in your area.
9. Real-life results
Tech advertising uses all kinds of tricks to mislead, from carefully shot photos to speeded-up footage that makes devices look faster than they actually are.
Nokia got into a bit of trouble last year with its Lumia 920: it's alleged that the footage and photos supposedly shot using the device were nothing of the sort.
10. The price is right
In August, the Advertising Standards Authority banned Sky's Bruce Willis advert over misleading price claims: the ad promised unlimited broadband for £7.50 a month but if you squinted at the small print you'd see that you also needed £14.50 monthly line rental and £21.50 TV subscription - bringing the total monthly cost to £43.50.
We can't be the only ones whose broadband, TV and phone package prices bear no resemblance to the prices you see in the ads.
11. We've got the power
This one is our favourite, and yet again it involves the ASA: in its pre-Google days, Motorola got an ASA ruler over the knuckles for claiming that its Atrix phone was "the world's most powerful smartphone".
When it was pointed out that it clearly wasn't - Samsung's Galaxy S II had a 1.2GHz processor compared to the 1GHz one in the Atrix - Moto essentially said "well yeah but our one has a keyboard and stuff". It turns out that there's power, and then there's ACCESSORY POWER!
- But tech can be good too! Here's 10 ways everyday tech is changing the world