Nexus 7

How Google blows statistical smoke up the media's skirts

July 31, 2013: 7:13 AM ET

Its (false) claim that the Nexus 7 outsold Apple's iPad in Japan is par for the course.

396958914225FORTUNE -- Kudos to SlashGear's Chris Burns for declining to take at face value Google's (GOOG) claim, made at the launch of the new version of the Nexus 7 tablet last week, that the original Nexus 7 was more popular in Japan than Apple's (AAPL) iPad.

Burns ran the numbers past IDC -- a research firm that's done its share of heavy lifting for Google -- and discovered that they were based on a BCN survey in January of 2,400 Japanese retail outlets (about 16% of the total) and did not include iPad sales from any of Japan's seven Apple Stores, its two largest telecom partners, or Apple's direct online channel.

Far from being outsold 44.4% to 40.1%, as Google claimed, the iPad in Japan clobbered the Nexus 7 by better than 2 to 1 -- 773,000 iPads to 350,000 Nexus 7s -- according to IDC's Q4 2012 numbers.

The tech press could do well to apply a little Burnsian skepticism to Google's other claims, such as the Google+ numbers CEO Larry Page likes to trot out to give the impression (see chart above) that Google's social media experiment is giving Facebook (FB) and Twitter a run for their money -- an impression actual usage numbers show to be false.

Perhaps Google's most egregious statistical inflations are its frequently updated Android activation numbers, which it claimed last week have reached 1.4 million per day and are on a trajectory to hit a total of 1 billion by late summer or early fall -- leaving Apple's iOS breathing Googley dust.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

But not all mobile activations are alike, as the MacNN staff pointed out on Tuesday.

Google's activation numbers, MacNN writes, include any device running any version of Android -- counting, for example, Chinese-made handsets that have no contact with Google services or stores and may never set foot on the Internet. They also include non-Google Android variants, such as the proprietary Android-like OSs that run Amazon's (AMZN) Kindle and Kindle Fire.

[Apple has been known to publish total iOS numbers that lump together iPhones, iPads and iPod touches. But unlike its competitors, Apple also releases sales numbers for most of those devices (the iPod touch being the conspicuous exception).]

For a dramatic visualization of how far Google's Android activation numbers are from delivering a coherent software ecosystem to developers, see the collection of Android fragmentation graphics -- including the one posted above -- created by Open Signal.

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