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Mac Rumors Feed More Mac Rumors

I remember a silly demonstration on an old TV talk show. In that segment, one person told a joke and that person, in turn, would repeat the joke to someone else. After going through several generations of this behavior, the story that emerged from the final person in this group had little or no resemblance to the original. It was, in fact, hardly a joke at all.

Indeed, it’s also true that a rumor or gossip spread verbally is apt to lose quite a bit in the translation as it passes from one source to the next. Thank heavens we have the Internet, where we can instantly link to the original story, true or otherwise, before we amplify upon it.

What ends up happening, of course, is that one rumor can buttress another rumor, even though everyone is simply pointing back to the same source. At least the information is transmitted accurately; well most of the time anyway. The problem is that you look at the story and come to believe that it has substance, because so many sites are talking about it. At the end of the day, it’s just many sites repeating the same story and rarely with any amplification or confirmation.

It’s also true that these sites would rather have you remember the rumors that proved accurate, and not the ones that were less so. That makes it all the more difficult to actually figure out precisely how much of their material is authentic and how much is hardly worth the bandwidth it consumes.

Now I won’t dismiss the thought that rumor sites do have access to information that mainstream members of the press don’t ordinarily consider. One reason is that their standards are lower. Since traditional reporters would expect to have two or more sources confirm a story, the rumor won’t get serious consideration, or shouldn’t assuming standard journalistic ethics are followed.

More to the point, you sometimes wonder how many of those rumors are really nothing more than guesses, educated and otherwise, about what Apple Inc. might do at some point in time.

Another technique used might be produce more accurate results, and that is to comb through the recesses of some beta software, such as the iPhone 3.0 SDK, in search of references to new models and individual components. That, and a little research might unearth details about possible model upgrades.

A recent example is Apple’s impending use of chipsets that support the speedier 802.11n Wi-Fi draft standard. This could certainly improve broadband performance on the next generation iPhone and iPod touch.

Another way to figure out what Apple is up to is to examine their frequent patent filings. That’s a slippery slope, you see, because it’s very possible that a technology described in those documents won’t see its way into an actual product for some years, and maybe never. The patent is simply intended to preserve Apple’s intellectual property rights, and there are no doubt lots of prototypes under development behind closed doors that you will never hear about.

Now at one time I was a member of Apple’s since-discontinued CQF (Customer Quality Feedback) program, where I had access to prerelease operating system software and occasional hardware prototypes. On one of those occasions, I actually had one of the early iMacs in my hands for several months, at least until a firmware update turned it into a brick.

On another occasion, I had a new minitower design for several months until, one day, I was instructed to return it immediately. I later learned that the model in question would never be produced, although its existence did show up on the Mac rumor sites at the time. This all happened during the time Steve Jobs was slimming down the Mac product line, and perhaps he felt this model, another beige box sporting a G3 processor as I recall, wouldn’t offer a distinct advantage over the other Mac desktops. This all preceded the introduction of the Blue & White version, with a new form factor that sustained itself through the G4 era.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to Apple rumors. From time to time the sites that publish that sort of material do get their facts right, and whether a lucky guess or something they actually investigated and confirmed, it’s nice to see where Apple might be heading.

What’s more, Apple is also known to favor a few mainstream publications, such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek and Time. In each case, key tech reporters are given an early look at the new product in question ahead of the rest of the media. In exchange they agree not to write anything on the subject until its actual release date.

That works best when the product in question is a trendsetter, such as the iPhone. It may not present that much of an advantage if the reporters aren’t so favorably inclined towards the new gadget, but it’s surely a valid method of marketing, particularly for a company as secretive as Apple.

Indeed, with or without Steve Jobs, it’s a sure thing they won’t change a winning strategy, and that’s certainly what’ll keep the Mac rumor sites alive.