Apple Springs A Leak
I’m a great fan of John Grisham. If you’re not familiar with his work, Grisham is a writer specializing dramatic novels that revolve around a legal theme. One of my favorite Grisham novels is called The Pelican Brief. In it, two American Supreme Court Justices are murdered with no motive or connection. A law student, curious to find an underlying relationship between the two crimes, begins the research the Justices, their legal history, and current case load. The research results in the law student writing a paper that speculates the Justices were murdered as part of a larger conspiracy. While purely speculative on the legal students part, it turns out the legal brief is exactly the truth of the matter. It’s the ultimate conspiracy theory because it turns out to be the truth.
Much in the same way the Pelican Brief is the story of a conspiracy theory that turns out to be true, I’ve been thinking for some time about my own. Mine revolves around Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and the sudden profusion of leaks and freely available previews of upcoming Apple products (iPhone 4G / HD). For a company that has an almost mythical history of secrecy and privacy, it seems mind boggling that every third string engineer celebrating their birthday and unknown Vietnamese web site is offering us insight into some of Apple’s most closely guarded secrets. Consider it for a moment. This was the company that wouldn’t even officially confirm or deny its corporate and spiritual leader was gravely ill at the beginning of 2009 or that he had received a liver transplant to cure him of those ills. Now it seems like everyone has a next generation iPhone 4G / HD prototype to show the world. Doesn’t that strike you as odd?
It’s always been my assertion that Apple’s marketing department is one of the smartest and most forward thinking on the planet. Their overt advertisement campaigns like Mac vs. PC have been pitch perfect. They capture the minds of people by playing on the every day frustrations and emotions they associate with their current computing experience. They are keyed in such a way as to portray the Apple computing experience as easy, fun, and enjoyable; emotions most people don’t associate with computing. And of course, Apple’s constant yet simple assertion that everything Apple “just works” is a powerful reminder when things don’t. But besides the overt successes of Apple’s marketing, there have always been whisperings in the tech community of Apple’s alleged covert marketing as well. How many of the leaks and “unnamed sources inside Apple” are actually Apple employees whose task is to plant information, and misinformation, in the media. If you pay any attention to how items are marketed these days; buzz, hype, and word of mouth are much more important than splashy, overt campaigns. A story planted on a tech blog like Engadget, Gizmodo, AppleInsider, or MacRumors has the opportunity to go instantly viral; traveling across the world faster than any marketing campaign and all for the cost of a phone call with the Caller ID blocked. The Internet has made it possible for a story that started with a phone call in Northern California in the morning to stretch across the globe with little or no effort. Apple is very smart and I’m sure this isn’t lost on them.
Which leads me back to my original point. Since the media shift in March from iPad speculation to iPhone 4G / HD speculation, Apple, the company of intense control and secrecy, seems to have turned into a bunch of bumbling Keystone Kops. First an ultra secret iPhone 4G prototype was lost in a bar in California and splashed all over the pages of Gizmodo, causing a media furor that gave us a first look at the new device. Then another 4G prototype appeared on an otherwise unknown Vietnamese web site which subsequently leaked an iPod touch with a 2 megapixel camera and the new MacBook. Now I’m not saying I know this is a brilliant piece of viral marketing but like my favorite story, the facts we know start to mirror a world we can only suppose exists. I’m of the opinion that this is all in fact a staged and managed campaign by Apple. Why would they risk that? Two immediate implications come to my mind.
First, they get to test market a final prototype iPhone without actually putting it out for public consumption. The iPhone 4G prototype gets “lost”, a gadget blog picks it up, and Apple gets to gauge the reaction to their prototype. Is the reaction giddy excitement? They hit the money and start mass producing it. Is the reaction sad disappointment? Adjust appropriately and move on.
Second, after the iPad release there was a bit of a malaise in the tech news industry in regards to Apple. You know how after something exciting happens you experience a bit of a let down? That’s what was happening with Apple products. What better way then to reinvigorate the buzz and hype Apple products live on then to drop some carefully orchestrated leaks into the media? In a couple of very well timed strokes we’re all out talking about Apple and the next generation iPhone again. I’m sure the machine would have started back up again eventually but the appearance of the prototypes short-circuited the system and got things rolling again.
Like my favorite book, this all may be a large work of fiction. I’m fully prepared to accept that. But if you bring all the facts together you also see that Apple has the talent, mystique, and sheer audacity to make such a move. It ensured people were talking about the next generation iPhone well ahead of its release and brought the iPhone 4G / HD into the mainstream consciousness as well. If David Letterman is doing Top Ten Lists about the new iPhone, you know its made it to the mainstream.
Yes, this may all be a large work of fiction but it’s incredibly intriguing to think it might not be. If it is true, this would be one of the most well orchestrated viral marketing campaigns in history. We may never know the truth but the speculation is an interesting exercise none the less.
What do you think? Could the recent leaks plaguing Apple actually be an orchestrated campaign by Apple itself? Are they manipulating the media for their own ends? Or are some cracks starting to form in Apple’s otherwise secretive demeanor? Should Apple be more open in their product development cycle to prevent leaks from happening? Let us know your thoughts.