The Apple Mind Readers Revisited

April 27th, 2009

Make no mistake about it. Other than close partners and contract equipment manufacturers, very few people outside of Apple know the truth about their future plans. By being exceptionally secretive, however, Apple feeds the rumors big time simply by saying nothing. The less they say, the more people talk.

So we have stories in recent days suggesting that Apple is in heavy talks with Verizon Wireless to add a second carrier to the U.S. once their contract with AT&T ends, and that’s reportedly in 2010.

On the surface this appears credible. After all, Verizon, by dint of its acquisition of Alltel, has emerged as the number one wireless carrier in the U.S. Even better, they have a reputation for superior network reliability and customer service. Indeed, some suggest that Verizon may have been a better fit for a company such as Apple, since it prides itself on offering an excellent customer experience.

On the other hand, Verizon uses the CDMA standard, one supported by far fewer companies worldwide, whereas building GSM-based product for AT&T allows Apple to manufacture one model that can work with dozens and dozens of carriers around the world.

However, it’s also true that Verizon will match the rest of the world in moving to the forthcoming  LTE standard, but that change is probably a couple of years away. However, when it happens, it would allow Apple to add Verizon to its list of carriers without the need to build two different iPhone versions.

On the other hand, the rest of the industry has been building multiple versions of their products that for years, and with the possibility of selling several million additional iPhones, it would seem to make sense for Apple to join the crowd. So I’d never say never. On the other hand, Apple could also strike a deal with T-Mobile, the nation’s fourth largest carrier, which also uses the GSM system. However, T-Mobile’s subscriber list, less than 33 million according to the most recent estimate, is far smaller than Verizon, and their 3G network isn’t well deployed yet.

Then again, Apple is always talking to potential partners. There’s no doubt about that, but it doesn’t mean that contracts are pending now, or in the near future. It may even be possible that some Verizon executives are quietly releasing just enough information about such discussions to be enticing to the media. It may also allow Verizon to fool potential customers into believing that the iPhone is coming, eventually, so there’s no reason for them to leave and go to AT&T.

On other fronts, there have already been published reports that Apple is shopping contract builders about assembling a netbook of some sort. One story had it that 10-inch screens had already been ordered for delivery later this year.

Even if true, that doesn’t mean there’s an Apple netbook in our future, although I rather suspect there will be something of this sort, probably based on the iPhone operating system. You see, Apple is always working on prototypes for new gear in its test labs. They might simply be gathering production estimates on various components just to have the information ready in case they do commit to actually releasing one of these products.

That would mean there is not just an iPhone-based netbook under development, but one that more closely resembles a traditional Mac portable computer. There is surely a CDMA version of the iPhone there too, along with lots of other stuff we can only dream about.

If any new gear is about to be announced, it may also be true that Apple will contact its favored mainstream reporters, perhaps from such outlets as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek or Time. They will receive briefings on deep background about the impending product or strategic maneuver, with the agreement that nobody from Apple will be quoted directly.

Consider that Wall Street Journal story recently about Steve Jobs that appeared to confirm his plans to return to Apple in late June as promised, and assuring us that he is still working closely with the company on new gear. It was widely quoted, and taken seriously, as it should be, since it’s all but a certainty that it was released with Apple’s full knowledge and cooperation.

When you read stories like that, you just know that there isn’t any mind reading involved. It’s either a phone call or a personal briefing, and it doesn’t require any psychic gifts to understand why it was done. That’s also an important segment of Apple’s marketing strategy.

Additionally, when a new product spec appears briefly on Apple’s site, do you really think it was an inadvertent mistake, or do they simply know that there are trolls watching every little thing on the site, in the hopes that something of this sort will suddenly appear and, of course, just as quickly disappear?

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