The Apple “Hints” Machine

June 10th, 2016

The speculation about Apple rebranding OS X as “macOS” intensified this week when some developer documentation mentioned a new revenue split for subscriptions via in-app purchases. So for the second year and beyond, it would be reduced from 30% to 15%. If that holds true, developers are getting a much better deal.

That should have been the story, until someone with an eye for details noticed that, instead of using OS X to refer to the Mac operating system, they used macOS. Aha! So therein lies yet another clue that Apple will rebrand the OS come the WWDC. It’s right there, clear as anything, and it’s consistent with their current approach with iOS, watchOS, and tvOS.

Well, until Apple changed it back, clearly after this curious move — or mistake — got lots of publicity.

In times past, there have been reports about Apple accidentally releasing specs for a new model of something or other; again it is removed once the word is out. You wonder if the people who designed the site did something stupid, and perhaps they did. Or maybe, just maybe, it was all a deliberate marketing maneuver to keep us talking about what was coming next.

All those hints. Sometimes you see telltale clues, possibly, in an invitation to a media event, and sometimes you’re just not sure.

Indeed, by rarely revealing the details about a new product or service, Apple gets more publicity simply because the rumor sites — and the mainstream media — can’t stop speculating about what the company might be up to.

Now there are reasons — valid ones — why Apple won’t give advance notice about a product upgrade. One is that sales will suffer on existing gear. True, Apple has tended to follow a rough schedule about product refreshes, but it doesn’t happen till it happens. Another reason is to keep the public guessing, and leave fewer breadcrumbs for the competition to examine in order to come up with something similar.

Sure, a company such as Samsung might already know. Apple has component deals with Samsung, so even if there is a nondisclosure contract with severe penalties, the word may still get out somehow. But the major marketing push comes under Apple’s terms.

When it comes to those little “mistakes” on price lists and in postings on Apple’s site, I suspect they aren’t mistakes after all. Employees are not going to be disciplined because it happened. It’s all part and parcel of a carefully crafted marketing leak to create anticipation and sell product. The more you talk about Apple, the more you’ll visit an Apple Store or the company’s site when you are in a buying mood.

That takes us to those background briefings, stories from unnamed but informed sources “close to Apple,” and other reports about what our favorite fruit company might be doing. You see stories of this sort, frequently at major news outlets, such as the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. But it’s not a matter of distilling and digesting rumors and trying to come up with something meaningful. These reports are all about creating anticipation. The informed sources are Apple executives and marketing people who reveal the news on the condition that they are not directly quoted, or identified. This is a traditional practice in the industry. Politicians and other officials also do it often, as a way to control the message.

This doesn’t mean that every Apple rumor is necessarily true. There may be leaks from the supply chain that end up being wrong or misleading. Details about a new product may represent a prototype that isn’t finalized, or will never be released. Stories about supply chain order patterns, less or more, may be accurate about one supplier, but it doesn’t reflect the total number of suppliers that Apple is using. More than one contractor may be involved, and ordering patterns will shift depending on supply and demand, and ongoing product changes. As Tim Cook has said on several occasions, you cannot take a few supply chain metrics and get the entire picture of how well a product is doing.

Now I’m sure you’d like to see a detailed product roadmap from Apple. Certainly businesses would love it, but so would Apple’s competitors. The practice of creating anticipation and demand for something new has proven successful even if people are often frustrated about the lack of clear details.

As I write this article, we’re days away from some major product launches from Apple. I’ve kept my predictions to the minimum and focused on the consensus of speculation about the WWDC and beyond. More important to me is what I would like to see, even if those hopes and dreams aren’t part of Apple’s product planning. At the end of the day, what ends up in new hardware and software is a matter of compromises. It’s a matter of what works and what doesn’t, and what features just don’t make any sense even if they sound really cool.

One thing about Apple is that they aren’t always first to jump on a new feature, which means others will do it first, but not always very well. So if Siri does end up on the Mac as predicted, it will, one hopes, be a far better Siri, so Apple doesn’t come across as just following Microsoft’s lead with Cortana on Windows 10.

I realize some of you are aching for Siri’s arrival. As I’ve said before, I don’t really care, but I’ll give it a try if and when it shows up.

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2 Responses to “The Apple “Hints” Machine”

  1. DaveD says:

    We, Mac old-timers, had a taste of Siri with PlainTalk and Speakable Items under classic Mac OS. While the upcoming Siri for the Mac is not new, more likely a much improved feature. To me it’s a “been there, done that” and not a wow factor. Yeah, it is just a rumor, but the rumors are more exciting on the hardware side especially the Mac ones.

  2. dfs says:

    There’s one thing wrong with Apple’s vaunted secrecy policy: it can keep third-party manufacturers from knowing stuff they need to understand in order to have their products ready when a new Apple product appears. For ex., since manufacturers aren’t told in advance the dimensions and other details of a forthcoming iPhone, this means early purchasers have to endure a few weeks before suitable cases, docks and so forth become available.

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