• Don’t Tell Anyone: The Mac Rumor Sites Are Still Here

    August 27th, 2005

    When Apple began filing lawsuits against some of the Mac rumor sites, you began to wonder if their days were numbered. I started to think what may daily online routine would be like if people were afraid to speculate about future iPods and Mac products fearing they might get it right and face the wrath of Apple. You could almost sense the chill in the air.

    Yes, I’ve said many times that we don’t truck in rumors here and we don’t encourage developers and others to break confidentiality agreements. On the other hand, I have no qualms about indulging in speculation from time to time. Well I don’t reduce myself to consulting tea leaves or crystal balls, I like to examine trends and take them to their inevitable conclusions. Or inevitable from my point of view. But we all love gossip. Whether it’s a weekly entertainment magazine, a so-called supermarket tabloid, or just sitting back and chewing the fat, idle chatter is fun, so long as you don’t hurt someone of course.

    Well, the actions against those rumor sites are still before the courts, and the way the legal system works, it may take years to resolve. One ruling is only as good as a decision from a higher court not to overturn it. I even began to consider how life would be without a rumor site to spice things up, especially when there’s not much important news in our tiny corner of the universe.

    I shouldn’t have worried, of course. For a short time, it seemed as if the rumor sites were a little tentative in their approaches to the latest scuttlebutt about future stuff from Apple. Did they perhaps fear more legal skirmishing? Maybe not, because they’re still around, although they haven’t completely taken the gloves off yet. At the same time, they seem to have allies from unexpected quarters. After Apple’s lawsuits against some of these sites became big news in the mainstream media, it seemed as if some of them decided to get their feet wet.

    Take, for example, the original revelation that Apple planned to switch to Intel processors. No, you didn’t hear it from your favorite Mac rumor site. Instead, it came from The Wall Street Journal, perhaps the most prestigious daily newspaper in the U.S. Imagine that! And Apple didn’t fire back with any legal threats. The story appeared, was picked up by other papers and, surprise, surprise, was actually confirmed by Steve Jobs at his WWDC keynote just a few days later.

    Now to be fair, I don’t think anyone broke a nondisclosure agreement to feed the story to the venerable WSJ. In fact, I very much believe in the conspiracy theory that the story was officially sanctioned by Apple to draw attention to what is normally just a series of work sessions for Mac developers. Sure, Apple does make key product announcements during the WWDC, such as a new version of Mac OS X, but this was the biggest news yet, and it got the world’s attention real fast.

    But I’m not surprised over official leaks from Apple. Remember when the original “lamp base” iMac appeared? It made the cover of Time magazine. No, Time’s reporters didn’t ferret out the information by traditional investigative journalism techniques. Instead, this was an official story, doubtless actively solicited by Apple. The magazine got direct and exclusive access to Steve Jobs and the story was so important from a marketing point of view that Apple even advanced the product’s introduction by one day to coincide with the magazine’s official appearance on the newsstands. Ah, the power of the press! But pity those who, at the time, bought plane tickets to the Macworld Expo anticipating a Tuesday keynote and had to pay big fees to reschedule.

    Now in the end, the iMac with the floating screen was something less than a smashing success, although it sold well for a time. On the other hand, you can’t fault Apple’s marketing push. Whether an officially approved rumor or an exclusive, when Apple calls an editor, they listen.

    But what about those Mac rumor sites? Now that the mainstream press has gotten into the act, are their days numbered? Well, here’s another conspiracy theory. In the wake of reports about the impending arrival of a $500 Mac late last year, Apple deliberately decided to file those lawsuits before the Macworld Expo at which the new computer was expected to be announced. What was the result? Of course, the lawsuits hit the media worldwide and far more attention was drawn to the Steve Jobs keynote address.

    So those little rumor sites not only had to go scurrying for legal assistance, they unwittingly became part of Apple’s marketing plan. After all, Apple didn’t have to file those lawsuits at that particular time, since the end result was simply to confirm that the new products described in the actions in question really existed. Of course one of those products, an audio “breakout” or interface box bearing the code name Asteroid, is still missing in action. Did Apple decide to give up on its plans in the wake of those leaks? Or is it readying a new round of legal actions or planned leaks when or if Asteroid is ready for release? I wonder.

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