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  • Is Apple Being Too Secretive?

    August 21st, 2007

    Before every last one of you gentle readers delivers a collective, ear-shattering “yes” to that question, maybe we should look more carefully at all the possibilities. Could it be that Apple’s business strategy works best the way it’s being executed, even if we don’t like it very much?

    To attempt to answer that question, let’s look at the way reporters approach a story. If they know something important is happening at a given date and time, you might look forward to a minimum of three stories. First about the event that’s about to happen, second about the event itself, and, finally, the summary with perhaps the reason for the event and its possible significance.

    When it comes to an event staged by a company building consumer products, it has to be done judiciously. Harried, overworked reporters are already overwhelmed with invitations, and they have to pick and choose with care. But when a company gets coverage, it can be worth potentially millions of dollars in free publicity, and all without having to spend a dime on ads.

    Now after years of being talked about as beleaguered and blamed for having but a tiny share of the PC market, Apple has apparently located the end of the rainbow, and found that huge pot of gold. Everything they release garners worldwide coverage, yet they are regarded as being quite as secretive as the CIA, and perhaps even more so.

    Whereas a company like Intel or Microsoft will tout product road maps and, in the case of the former, actually meet their goals, Apple tells you very little about what it’s working on. When they do, there’s an important strategic reason. So, for example, developers need to have advanced knowledge about a major upgrade to the Mac OS. At the same time, the extra publicity doesn’t hurt, so Apple stages a huge gathering to disclose carefully selected details about the new system. In recent years, it’s been a part of the WWDC, which attracts thousands of Mac developers from around the world.

    The campaign to introduce the iPhone was nothing short of masterful. After years of rumors about such a gadget, Apple removed the curtains and displayed their new creation, even before, it turns out, they made a deal with Cisco to use the iPhone name. Then again, perhaps that was deliberate, knowing that a little controversy over the rights to call the product by its preordained name would garner a proper level of headlines to keep up interest.

    Indeed, a few days prior to the iPhone’s debut, people were seated in front of various branches of Apple Stores around the country, smiling for the newspaper and TV cameras and boasting of their intentions to be among the first to take one home. A few even promised to put their phones up for sale on eBay, hoping to attract a little extra income, perhaps to finance their own purchases and calling plans.

    By the time the iPhone actually left the starting gate, both the Apple Store and AT&T could barely keep the things in stock, and people still couldn’t stop talking. Nor could the press, and the feeding frenzy reached a point where sales estimates were not only off the charts but way into the stratosphere.

    When it comes to the next major revision to the Mac, however, you hear little or nothing until the shipping date arrives or shortly before. Whether the product’s arrival is announced with a special event or simply a press release depends on where it fits into Apple’s marketing plans.

    The new iMac and updated versions of iLife and iWork was sufficient cause to summon selected members of the press corps to the Apple campus at Cupertino, CA to get a sales pitch direct from Steve Jobs. That, and a brief question and answer session, was sufficient to provide the media with fodder for several days of stories. A number of review samples were also supplied, but there are never enough units to satisfy the demand.

    Besides, Apple is no doubt reserving a fair number of iMacs for product placements on TV and the movies.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t find out things about Apple when they have nothing to say. These days, you don’t just have to depend on Mac rumor sites either. The mainstream press often gets into the game as well. The more Apple says nothing, the more people talk.

    The latest reports, for example, have it that Apple’s note-book sales are soaring to levels beyond what anyone previously predicted. It’s quote possible that the iMac will also add a substantial share to the total number of Macs moved this quarter, and perhaps some Mac minis will be sold as well, although Apple is doing its best, it seems, to keep that model a secret.

    Through all this, Apple doesn’t have to say very much to keep things in motion.



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