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  • Mac Reality Check: Welcome to the World of Spin

    December 21st, 2006

    It’s very easy to forget that pretty much all the companies I write about and you read about in these columns are profit-making enterprises. So naturally they want good press, and will do what they can to get those favorable write-ups.

    At the same time, a real journalist, as opposed to folks who just regurgitate press releases, will try to separate the facts from the corporate spin, sometimes without much success. If a company truly wants something secret, they can often succeed. You see, there’s not a whole lot of real investigative journalism in the tech world. We’re usually too busy just keeping up with what’s going on to actually separate the wheat from the chaff.

    Take Microsoft, our favorite whipping boy — or whipping person if one wants to be politically correct about it. When they were immersed in that antitrust conflict with the U.S. Department of Justice, they said they only wanted to be free to innovate. But how often has Microsoft truly innovated, and not just imitated or made lavish promises they couldn’t keep?

    You can take a look at the original promises for Longhorn, now known as Vista, to see about missed shipping dates and abandoned or repurposed features. But that’s nothing new for Microsoft. Back in the 1990s, they talked about something called Cairo, advanced operating system technologies that would ultimately match and surpass anything else on the market. It was all a bait and switch, however. A few of the technologies showed up in various shapes and forms, but many are still missing in action.

    Apple had its own flirtation with this sort of thing, although I gather they did make an honest effort to produce Copland, an ambitious plan for an industrial-strength operating system that went nowhere. In the end, they bought NeXT, which brought back Steve Jobs — and the rest is history.

    Well, not completely. How often did Steve Jobs demonstrate Rhapsody, the precursor to Mac OS X, and make promises before they could really be fulfilled?

    Today Apple, for the most part at least, doesn’t make promises they can’t keep. In fact, they hardly makes promises at all, keeping most of their strategies and product road maps close to the vest. Only when it needs to bring in third parties — such as presenting a new operating system version or that change to Intel processors — does it deliver any specifies about future products and technologies. Or if it serves some future (usually unannounced) master plan, witness the introduction of the wireless television interface device that was code-named iTV.

    Certainly, Apple will still engage in the proper amount of corporate spin. Whenever there’s a new version of Mac OS X in the offing, they’ll rag on Microsoft as nothing more than a blatant copycat. They are correct to a large degree, but don’t think that Apple is above cribbing a few ideas from others too if it suits its purposes.

    When Apple isn’t around to spin a few tales, there are always the Mac rumor sites. Sure, some of what they say is true, sometimes so close to a real product that you have to wonder about their sources and who at Apple or one of its suppliers might be spilling the beans. At other times, though, when real information isn’t available, it almost seems as if they are tossing out lots and lots of claims, hoping a few might stick.

    The mainstream press gets into the act as well. How much prose have you read about that iPhone? No, not the Internet phone recently introduced by Linksys, but Apple’s alleged entry into the mobile arena.

    Of course, we all know that Apple has yet to announce any such thing. Sure you can find a few tidbits at the patent office, but just because Apple registers something doesn’t mean it’ll end up in a full-fledged product. Quite often the patent is applied for just to give them rights to a concept or technology should they decide to go to the next level.

    You may want to tell me that there’s little doubt Apple will introduce a phone based on the iPod in the very near future — and I’ve begun to call it the iPod Phone for lack of a more imaginative title — and you may be right. But don’t assume anything about what form it’ll take. Remember, when it comes to creating corporate spin, Apple ranks with the best of them.



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