Speculation, Not Rumors

December 31st, 2010

I gather there are some of you who assume that, because something is published, it must be true, even if it comes from a site that posts rumors. This can become a trifle irritating when the report ends up being only partly true, or completely false.

When you read an erroneous story, you might wonder where it came from. Are there people sitting in front of their computers making all this up, or did someone, somewhere, provide information that the publishers of those blogs believed to be true?

Now I’m not about to guess which is which. Besides, sometimes those rumor sites have it right, at least in part. So you have to wonder: Just how they are coming by that information? Are they examining the trash bins outside of Apple’s headquarters, or those at one of Apple’s contract factories? Since it’s safe to assume that any mission critical documents are shredded, and that communications by email are encrypted, there’s always the phone. But I assume those conversations might also be secured in some fashion, and even if a government agency was wiretapping those phones, they clearly wouldn’t be feeding the information they gather to a rumor site, or to one of that site’s sources.

Other potential repositories of confidential information could be employees of Apple or one of their suppliers. You have already heard of a certain employee who got in trouble over this, or that infamous episode where an Apple engineer, who was evidently doing external testing of a prototype iPhone 4, either lost or had it taken from him while at a restaurant. The latter episode, however, is an anomaly, and I expect Apple exhorted employees to be more careful with their backpacks and prerelease gear in the future, or heads will roll.

Another potential source is Apple Inc., someone officially charged with feeding the rumor sites tidbits of information, knowing that they’ll jump at the chance to have an exclusive. The sites may not even know the real source, but they may go with the report anyway if it seems even somewhat credible.

While this may seem a screwy way of generating interest in a new product, it’s a known fact that Apple is extremely controlling and secretive; that information is only released when it suits a particular marketing plan. But you and I have no way to know what that marketing plan might be, other than the way it all plays out in public.

It is also well known that Apple will treat certain favored members of the press more openly than others. So you’ll find reviews of new Apple gadgets on or before the day of release, and ahead of most media reviewers, who are left on the back of the bus for their piece of the pie. That is, unless they don’t give up in frustration and buy one to test, and, after use, maybe auction it off on eBay or use it for the office.

You’ll also read stories in the mainstream media that supposedly come from “informed sources,” or something of that sort. Here it is quite possible that Apple is, once again, quietly seeding the stories on the promise that nobody will be quoted directly. The reporters who are so favored with early access know full well that, on the day that they dare violate their pact with Apple, they will lose that cherished status then and there. So they behave themselves, and you often read previews of new Apple products and services that will shortly come to pass. Apple, in turn, can rely on plausible deniability to appear ignorant about the matter.

Of course, if you aren’t among the privileged, you have to fend for yourself. If there are no secret sources to telephone or email you, there’s always — perish forbid — informed speculation. That requires research, to understand the whys, wherefores, and timing of Apple product refreshes, and what product segments they are likely to enter. If you know, for example, that Intel has released a major new processor family that seems suitable for a new Mac, you can expect updated products to incorporate some of those parts once they are available in decent quantities. In some cases, such as the original MacBook Air and some of the Mac Pro versions, Apple got first digs on new Intel processors that were only later made available to other PC makers.

But Apple fools the media time and time again. The latest update to the MacBook Air seemed a long time coming. Some believed the product would soon vanish. But the end result is far more commercially viable. And, of course, Apple TV seemed to be floundering for quite a while until it was totally revamped this past fall.

When Steve Jobs signaled the MacBook Air as heralding the future of the entire MacBook line, you have to wonder whether those forthcoming MacBooks and MacBook Pros might come without built-in optical drives, and whether solid state storage would replace traditional mechanical devices. But with SSD still a luxury purchase when you require capacities above 128GB, it may take a while for chips to get cheap enough to really make this a viable hard drive replacement. But, yes, it will likely happen someday, and thus the MacBook Air might indeed signal major changes in Apple note-books.

And one more thing: When I suggested in yesterday’s column that the next iPad would sport a front-facing camera and perhaps that Micro-USB port, I wasn’t being inspired by a rumor site. Both features are perfectly logical (the latter will be required in Europe next year), and thus I regard it as informed speculation pure and simple.

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3 Responses to “Speculation, Not Rumors”

  1. Dave Barnes says:

    You should consider replacing your comments system with Disqus.

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