Using Alleged New Cases to Unearth Apple Secrets

December 24th, 2010

The search to discover secrets about Apple’s latest and greatest gadgets has reached a fever pitch. You almost think some people are examining the trash bins in the vicinity of the Apple campus in Cupertino, CA for telltale evidence of what they’re working on. Of course, physical documents would be shredded as a matter of course, but I’m sure that doesn’t stop some eager beavers from trying, wishing, and hoping.

Certainly the design of the next generation of the iPad has become fodder for lots of discussion, and that makes a lot of sense. Consider the vast investment Apple’s competitors are making to find the killer product that will steal the iPad’s thunder.

Some aspects of iPad 2.0 seem a given. There will be a front facing camera, simply because it makes sense, and also because Apple wants to expand the FaceTime user base. I wouldn’t be surprised if a Windows version cropped up though, truth be told, they may want to keep that particular feature confined to the Mac OS and iOS — and perhaps some specially licensed third-party products.

Other potential iPad features include perhaps a rear camera, although that sort of layout seems clumsy for quick snapshots and even movies. In light of complaints that today’s iPad is a little hefty for one-handed use, and therefore reduces its flexibility for reading e-books, there’s probably sufficient reason for Apple to give it a diet. The next version may indeed by slimmer, perhaps a little lighter, with a less curvy rear to prevent wobbling when the unit is laid flat. Even a few ounces saved would help, although I think the magic number is one pound, and I don’t see Apple beating that benchmark without ditching aluminum and moving to, say, carbon fiber. But if it’s good enough for airplanes, it should be good enough for Apple.

There’s also speculation about a mini USB port, to meet new European Union requirements for consistency among mobile devices, and perhaps even an SD card slot.

As you see, the speculation will never end. Even when iPad 2.0 is finally out, we’ll start talking about its successor.

As I write this column, I just read an article containing a photo of a proposed case prototype for the next generation iPad. That it has a rectangular opening at the bottom rear allegedly indicates Apple might install a larger speaker, but why not two speakers? Even the iPhone has that. It doesn’t quite pass the logic test, as far as I’m concerned. And, yes, I know the original iPad has just one.

But the real problem is that, in the desperate search for nuggets about a new Apple product, rumor sites sometimes have to resort to extraordinary measures, or just hope that someone’s prototype for a case or accessory will yield evidence that they know something we don’t.

Now prototype cases are nothing new. Besides, you’d expect that companies that build “official” accessories for Apple gear would actually be afforded some insights into new designs under stringent confidentiality agreements. A company that violates such an agreement would find themselves in a heap of trouble, so there seems to be little incentive to want to draw attention to themselves.

That being said, some of those prototype cases do sometimes end up resembling something that appears genuine, clearly meant to fit the latest and greatest from Apple. But not always. Regardless, the mere presence of something, usually a mock-up generated in Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop, is sufficient to create headlines. That’s true even if the design itself represents some controversial or questionable choices.

Of course, my skepticism may be utterly misplaced. Maybe that case design making the rounds now is the genuine article. In fact, I’ve long speculated that some of this prerelease scuttlebutt is clearly generated by Apple, working behind the scenes to drum up interest — but not enough to hurt sales of current models. Since the stories don’t overtly originate from Apple, they can clearly rely on plausible deniability to get away with it.

The official word is: “We don’t comment on unreleased products,” except, of course, when such announcements have a strategic purpose. Then, and only then, you will witness the media briefings and discover the carefully controlled tidbits of information designed to whet your appetites, and get you ready to break out your checkbook or credit card to place your order.

One thing is certain with iPad 2.0: You won’t see the announcement until the product is ready to ship. If Apple spills the beans prematurely, they risk gutting sales of existing models, and that could mean loads of unsold inventory, gear that has to be moved at closeout prices.

Sometimes Apple will even suffer a severe shortage for a brief period of time, to allow existing inventory to be sold, as the production lines for the older models wind down. As you know, Apple manages production better than any other company in the industry, and when they run short, other than early production ramp up glitches, it’s usually because initial demand simply outstrips supplies, and, of course, exceeds their expectations. When it comes to guessing customer response, Apple tends to be conservative. They’d rather have you wait a while to get a new iconic product than suffer from overproduction, and the need to have sharp discounts to move product.

Whenever you see those two-for-one sales on new smartphones, as an example, you just know that the wireless carriers aren’t doing that for your benefit. It’s because they can’t move enough of them at full price, which is, of course, something that doesn’t happen to Apple.

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One Response to “Using Alleged New Cases to Unearth Apple Secrets”

  1. An official iPad 2 announcement may delay purchases to you and me, but I’m surprised how many friends still buy pre iPhone 4s.

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