A Consumer’s Guide to Apple Rumors

There are lies, damned lies...and Apple predictions. Part one in a series.

By  |  Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 2:43 am

Tea Leaves That Might Mean Something

Things which sound a little crazy, especially when they involve minimalist design. No other major manufacturer would dare to sell an MP3 player without a display, a computer that doesn’t come with a keyboard or mouse, or a notebook with a battery you can’t remove. Apple not only would, it has.

Fuzzy spy photos. They don’t always amount to anything, but unlike ads and concept art, some are legit–like this bad shot of what turned out to be the new MacBook’s unibody case.

Rumors relating to Asian component suppliers and contract manufacturers doing business with Apple. Not all are worth paying attention to–hey, remember the AMD-based Macbook that Apple released back in 2006?–but some do provide early tipoffs that something’s in the works.

Other rumors that originate with Apple partners rather than Apple itself. The company is way better at making sure its own employees stay mum than it is at preventing leaks at companies it does business with. Multiple Wal-Mart staffers told reporters about the retailer’s plans to sell iPhones before they were supposed to; it’s hard to imagine anyone at any Apple Store in the nation being so loose-lipped.

Tea Leaves That Quite Often Mean Something

The seasons. Apple is pretty consistent in releasing certain types of products at certain times.  Apple marketing head Phil Schiller spelled it out recently when talking to the New York Times’ David Pogue about Apple’s decision to abandon Macworld Expo:

He noted that Apple marches to certain annual product cycles: the holiday season (Novemberish), the educational buying season (late summer), the iPod product cycle (October), the iLife development cycle (usually March), the iPhone cycle (June).

Rumors that involve new products arriving in those timeframes are automatically more plausible than those that don’t jibe with them, and it’s possible to combine these schedules with common sense to make predictions that stand an excellent chance of coming true. (I hereby predict that Apple will announce new iPod Nanos in September 2009 with double the memory of today’s models–and that it will announce new Nanos in September 2010 with double that memory.)

Very last-minute rumors, especially ones reported by big-name media brands that employ actual reporters. When CNET said in 2005 that Apple was about to switch the Mac platform to Intel chips, it was worth taking seriously. These days, it’s often possible to be reasonably confident about what Steve Jobs (or Phil Schiller) is about to unveil the night before he strides onstage.

Processor speed bumps. This is the one sort of Apple-related product scuttlebutt that’s not hard to get right. As Intel releases new CPUs, Apple will respond with refreshes of existing computers that incorporate them (often with more RAM and bigger hard disks as long as they’re at it).

Apple’s invitations to its press events. They’re usually pretty darn clear about the topic at hand–if an invite says “The Spotlight Turns to Notebooks,” you can be confident that the spotlight will, indeed, turn to notebooks. The single best Apple invite of all time was probably the one it sent out for the September 2005 event that introduced the iPod Nano. It not only made clear that the announcement involved iPods and invoked the “1000 Songs in Your Pocket” tagline, but was illustrated with photo of a blue jeans pocket with a teeny Nano-sized pocket sitting inside it. Everything you needed to see to figure out that the event involved a surprisingly small iPod was there in front of your eyes.

Steve Jobs dismissals of something as being unimportant. If he says that an iPod is “the wrong place” for video, it means that the company isn’t going to release a video iPod…quite yet. If he explains why the iPhone shouldn’t support third-party applications, it means that Apple’s still working on making it possible. So when he says that “people don’t read anymore,” it’s not unreasonable to assume that the chances that the iTunes Store will eventually sell books (and maybe, even, that Apple will release a device designed in part for the consumption of books) are not bad.

So there you go. I’m not saying that looking at Apple rumors through this lens will let you divide fact from fantasy every time, but it’ll help. And in the next article in this series, I’ll audit scads of specific rumors and predictions from the past to see what we can learn from them. Until then, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Apple rumors–whether you love ’em, hate ’em, or can’t decide.



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14 Comments For This Post

  1. Willner McPhee Says:

    I particularly like Job’s “People don’t read anymore” comment. I’m sure he knows that his comment is ridiculous. Students read. Parents read. Old people read. And kids read. That’s about everyone. And they even read the screen of their iPod to catch, say, the New York Times.

    Clearly, he was saying “we’re looking at that, but we don’t do that today. People don’t read books with our devices today”.

  2. Harry McCracken Says:

    I think it’s almost become a game with Jobs, not unlike pretending that he’s finished a keynote before he unveils big news. He knows that we know that when he dismisses an idea, he means that Apple would like to do it but doesn’t have it ready in a form that pleases them.


  3. paul Says:

    It makes me wonder about blu-ray “Being A big bag of hurt”

  4. dougit Says:

    Nice article. Well written, complete.

  5. Rex Riley Says:

    Once you grok Apple, since Steve Jobs return, has been on a product development strategy very similar to B&O – third generation product implementation of best-in-class consumer technology, you have a Rosetta Stone.

  6. john Says:

    I believed the rumor that the apple store was trustworthy and geniuses could save my data. I lost an the uploads of an entire field season of research and i don’t even want to you my powerbook to analyze data anymore as the board has screwed the pooch 4 times in the past 9 months. I told apple I wanted a trade for any non laptop and they just laughed at me,

    Christ they are beautiful machines…. but damn if I will ever *buy* one again. My powerbook has been repaired every 9 months since I got it. And the worse part, is that Apple has claimed at least twice that it was software error (Which they recanted when they received the machine),

    If I treated my customers that way… I don’t know… I couldn’t be that irresponsible of a consumer of my product.

    Apple seem s to not be the store I loved.
    movin on.

  7. me Says:

    John, if your data is that important, you might want to make backups. If you don’t, and come into any computer store complaining when the disk goes bad, you will either be laughed at in your face or behind your back.

  8. Gonzalez Michael Says:

    That computer/fax machine combo seems a very interesting innovation but a fax is so yesterday!

  9. David Crotty Says:

    I think Jobs’ comments on readers are often misinterpreted. What I think he was saying (and he’s right on the money here), is that the market for books isn’t large enough to support a stand-alone reader like the Kindle. In order to get costs of manufacturing down, you need to take advantage of scale. You can do that with a cel phone or a gameboy, those markets are huge and in the case of phones, you can make a device so cheaply that it can be given away for free in order to sell service. With book readers, just look at the number of people who have bought and read a book in the last year, and you’ll see that they pale in comparison. Estimates for Kindle sales are around 250K to 500K. Compare with the iPhone’s 17 million, or the RAZR’s 50 million plus. That’s why the iPhone dropped by 50% in price in its second iteration, and the Kindle didn’t.

  10. John Baxter Says:

    Well done, Mr. McC. I was wrong in my disbelief in the processor switch, right–so far–in my disbelief of the AMD idea, and didn’t try with the recent chipset switch. Generally, I prefer to wait (I don’t even follow “live blogging” any more–the evening of an event is soon enough.

    (I’m a geezer, though: I think the right velocity of news is weekly or monthly magazines (Time, Newsweek, Life, Look) and newsreels (YouTube does NOT count, although it’s a lot more entertaining).)

    Any relation to the McCracken whose book I read back in the days of IBM and the seven dwarfs? (Title forgotten.) (Sample: the program which started mangling 5-letter surnames: JoJones, SmSmith, etc.)

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  14. Xbox 360 Says:

    About Jobs quote – behold, the iPad. Lol. Perfect for reading and they even introduced iBooks. Funny that he knew this all along, the iPad was set to be produced even before the iPhone!

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