The Fuzzy-Wuzzy World of Tech Spy Shots

They're strange, deceptive, frustrating...and utterly lovable.

By  |  Wednesday, October 8, 2008 at 8:52 pm

[SHAMELESS PLUG: Technologizer will be liveblogging the Apple notebook event on 10/14/2008 @ 10am PT. Please join us.]

So Engadget has published a shot of what might be a next-generation MacBook built with an innovative manufacturing process:

The shot has several things in common with most tech-product spy shots:

1) It’s of an unannounced but eagerly-anticipated product;

2) Nobody really knows whether it’s real or not, except, maybe, for the person who leaked it;

3) It’s a horrible photo, one that’s fuzzy and which otherwise just doesn’t show the product in question in a manner that would help anyone judge its veracity.

Folks have been waiting for significantly new MacBooks for so long that the spyshots of them, or products that claim to be them, are queuing up. Here’s one from a few months ago–a little crisper than today’s image, but almost as confusing:

But the most famous Apple spy shot of 2008 (so far!) was probably Kevin Rose’s image of a new iPod Nano which, I’m ashamed to say, I thought was probably a fake even though Apple did, indeed, release Nanos that looked just like this one shortly thereafter. I was suspicious about the fact that it was not only fuzzy but in black and white; I shoulda realized that spy shot history seems to suggest that bad shots are just as likely to prove legit as good ones.

Some spy shots remain confusing even after the product in question is released. Such as this one (more grainy than fuzzy) from April of a second-generation iPhone. At the time, the idea it might have a black plastic case was new. And this photo is of something that looks almost like the iPhone 3G we actually got. (The “8GB” box is below the teeny type in this photo, but my real iPhone 3G has it above the type.) Convential wisdom at the time was that it was a fake iPhone, but not a fake, period–it was an iPhone case. Which it probably was. Maybe.

Then there’s this shot from a year ago–relatively crisp but also black-and-whitey–of a supposed Mac Nano. A year later, we’re still waiting for it.

This 2006 shot of a “video iPod” published by Macshrine was pretty crisp and clear; too bad it was utterly fake. (Well, it was a photo of something, but not a iPod.)

This apparently real 2005 shot of a 5G iPod from Engadget wasn’t as blurry as some, but it showed an iPod that was swathed in dingy marked-up plastic, with a screen with menus you probably couldn’t read to boot.

There is one completely reliable, incredibly simple way to tell if a leaked Apple image of an alleged new product isnt’ real: If it’s distributed in the form of a razor-sharp Apple ad with really bad ad copy, like this one for supposed second-generation iPhones in three colors, it’s very, very fake!

And there’s also one way to tell if a spy shot is real: If Apple demands that the site that posted it take it down. Like it did last year, for instance.

When you think tech spy shot, an image of an Apple product probably pops into your head, but it ain’t just Apple products that get the fuzzy treatment. Here’s a 120GB Zune, with the “120GB” just barely legible:

And poor Palm has probably had as high a percentage of its new products be leaked as fuzzy photos as any company on the planet:

(That shot above isn’t exactly crisp, but compared to your average spy shot, it’s practically in 3D…)

And BlackBerry maker RIM isn’t far behind:

(The above image, by the way, is of a fake non-working store-demo BlackBerry Storm, by the way…and it’s blurry!)

(I’m not sure what the above 2007 shot from Boy Genius Report is–or isn’t–of. I do, however, know that while it looks like a touchscreen device, it’s not the Storm. Oh, and it’s blurry.)

After doing all this thinking about spy shots, I’ve come to a few conclusions:

–There’s no correlation between fuzziness, or lack thereof, and the likelihood of them being legit;

–I don’t understand why some spy shots are monochrome–it’s like Ansel Adams took ’em or something;

–I wonder if some shots are intentionally fuzzy–maybe even fuzzed-up in Photoshop–but I’m not sure why anyone would do that;

–If I knew someone who was in a position to take juicy spy shots, I’d try to convince them to buy a good-quality pocket-sized point and shoot camera with solid low-light performance, and would volunteer to give them photography lessons if need be;

–You’d think that spy shots of new cars would usually be worse than ones of gadgets, since they’re generally taken at a distance of objects that are in motion. In fact, they’re usually crisper and clearer.

Oh, and tech spy shots are usually confusing, sometimes misleading, and occasionally infuriating, when they get you excited about a product that doesn’t exist. But despite everything, I’m glad we have them…


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3 Comments For This Post

  1. DTNick Says:

    Mac Nano is definitely a prototype Apple TV:

  2. Juha Says:

    Maybe that headline needs to be rephrased…

  3. Harry McCracken Says:

    If “fuzzy wuzzy” is “often” used as a racial slur–in the U.S., at least–it’s news to me; I was referencing the poem about a bear, and mean no offense to anyone…