Harvard economics professor Sendhil Mullainathan takes a look in the New York Times at interesting correlations between the release dates of new phones and OSes and search queries that indicate frustration with the speed of the phones that people already have. Mullainathan illustrates with graphs (and gives plausible explanations for the difference) just how different the curves are over time for the search terms "iPhone slow" and "Samsung Galaxy slow." It's easy to see with the iPhone graph especially how it could seem to users that Apple has intentionally slowed down older phones to nudge them toward upgrading. While he's careful not to rule out intentional slowing of older phone models (that's possible, after all), Mullainathan cites several factors that mean there's no need to believe in a phone-slowing conspiracy, and at least two big reasons (reputation, liability) for companies — Apple, Google, and cellphone manufacturers like Samsung — not to take part in one. He points out various wrinkles in what the data could really indicate, including genuine but innocent slowdowns caused by optimizing for newer hardware. It's an interesting look at the difference between having mere statistics, no matter how rigorously gathered, and knowing quite what they mean.
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