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Is Apple Playing a Psychological Warfare Game?

I know. You are going to think that I’m just playing my own game here, to get lots of hits with a lurid title, but I’m perfectly serious. If you examine Apple’s usual public relations ploys in handling new product announcements and other matters, you might even agree with me.

Let’s go back to last year, when Apple rolled out the new iPods and Steve Jobs announced that notorious $200 reduction in the price of an iPhone. In various interviews, he had rather a cavalier attitude about this unexpected maneuver, saying that customers have to expect the price of technology to change rapidly.

Yes, he was being brutally honest there, no doubt, but the reaction was quick and furious. How dare Apple cut the price of the iPhone so quickly without taking care of the early adopters? Well, one day later, Apple caved in, so to speak, by offering a $100 rebate to those who bought the iPhone too early to be eligible for dealer price protection.

So what happened here? Was Apple caught napping, and did Steve Jobs and the marketing team have to go back to the drawing boards to come up with a workable plan to fight off public condemnation, class action lawsuits and certainly negative press?

Quite possibly they simply miscalculated the public’s reaction, or forgot, for the moment, how much people have invested their hopes and dreams in Apple. Maybe Apple betrayed them accidentally, or was the price cut and the unfeeling comments from Jobs part of a calculated maneuver to get plenty of press, and even more when the policy was quickly changed?

Certainly, the iPhone reached its one million sales milestone within just a few days. Did all this extra publicity serve to boost sales over that magic threshold? Well, some marketing experts say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, just so long as they spell your name right.

In any case, Apple lived down that accidental or deliberate misadventure.

Then there is the issue of the iPhone SDK. Now if you look way back, Steve Jobs did say that Apple was working on a solution that would provide proper security protection. But that was lost in the pile as more and more independent programmers devised ways to install their own software without Apple’s official approval. Others managed to unlock the phone, so you can use it on another wireless carrier.

Now Apple’s cat-and-mouse game with the software crackers may have seemed to be an unfortunate activity, but you also have to remember that, by closing up security loopholes in the various iPhone updates, they were protecting you from exploitation. So what if it also had the side-effect of disabling third-party software. That’s just an expected if unfortunate development, and it is true that they were exploiting the security leaks to make their special installers function.

When Jobs announced during his WWDC keynote that Apple would let you build applications for the iPhone that opened within the Safari browser, many developers concluded “is that all there is” and were justifiably disappointed. Yes, there are such applications, but that’s not the point of this exercise.

Forgotten was Apple’s earlier promise about a software development solution that implied something more elaborate than a simple browser-based tool.

So when Apple finally announced the official iPhone SDK, many believed that this was done in response to the public’s clamoring for something better. Maybe that’s, in part, true. But that’s also the fulfillment of the promise Jobs made early on, the promise that was waylaid when a different scheme was presented at the WWDC keynote.

On the surface, it would seem as if the iPhone SDK was forced upon Apple, or maybe they put it on the backburner to see gauge public reaction and see what to do. You responded, and they reluctantly delivered the answer you wanted. But maybe it was all planned long, long ago.

Then there’s the new Time Capsule, a combo AirPort Extreme router and storage device, which will appear next month. It seems like a pretty simple product, which basically bundles two components and an internal power supply in one box. It’s designed for wireless backup for Macs running Leopard, but isn’t that something Apple previously promised to deliver for the AirPort itself?

That feature disappeared before Leopard was released, and there’s already chatter that maybe Apple did that so they could force you to buy their own storage device, even if you already have the router part. Does that conspiracy theory hold true? Apple isn’t saying.

I think, however, that they just wanted to keep you talking about it. In the end, there will quite likely be a software or firmware solution that will deliver that feature to the AirPort Extreme, so Apple can make good on its original promise.

And all of this, indeed, may be part of the great game to keep you talking about Apple and its products. If that’s true, they have succeeded admirably, as the mere existence of this commentary confirms.