Apple Leaks — Is There Such a Thing?

Apple ComputerAs any of us who deal directly with Apple for the purposes or testing or reviewing their products know, they’re a secretive lot.

In an increasingly crowded consumer technology market, other vendors are only too happy to comment and provide images or technical information. Anyone who’s worked in technology reporting has signed a few non-disclosure agreements in their time, but most companies in the tech industry are desperate for any coverage they can get.

Not so Apple. As the only tech company whose products are anticipated as much as a blockbuster movie or video game, it can afford to be secretive, and its modus operandi not to comment is legendary. Apple doesn’t speculate, comment or advise on anything until the Cupertino High Council has decreed it.

Or does it?

The old chestnut about there being no such thing as bad publicity is truer all the time. If you believe the stories, Paula Yates was the one who tipped the London tabloids off about her affair with Michael Hutchence. Film director Michael Bay was only too happy to tell reporters at his July 2007 Sydney publicity junket that the servers rendering the CGI of his hit Transformers repelled 40,000 hack attempts.

Most of us would be excited enough that 40,000 people were that interested in what we were doing. In Apple’s case, tens of millions are waiting on every move the company makes. Never before had there been so much anticipation of a mobile phone than when the iPhone arrived in Australia, a scene much the same across the world.

Any company that sells stuff people are interested in leaks about is in an enviable position. When was the last time you went looking for pictures of the latest NAS or LCD monitor? With such a thirst for information, any other company might be delighted at the fanboys slavering for any morsel.

Not Apple — not when we remember the high profile case where blogger Nicholas Ciarelli was famously sued by the company after his blog Think Secret leaked photos of the Mac Mini two weeks before the official announcement.

The Ciarelli case was just one in a long line of legal threats and cease-and-desists launched by Apple. Most of them were not only fruitless (Ciarelli settled out of court) but merely convinced everyone the leaks Apple were upset about must be genuine.

Since then, some commentators have claimed Apple’s learned its lesson and gone soft on thought crime. Ciarelli himself thinks it’s because the blogopshere — once a loose fraternity of independent, vocal and passionate tech watchers — has evolved into an arm of the mainstream media that are harder to go after in court and can argue back a lot harder.

Maybe founder Arnold Kim has it right when he points out that any attention — leaked or otherwise — is generating interest in Apple products.

Because there’s only one thing better than free advertising, and that’s free advertising people are desperate to seek out and discover before their friends. You can’t buy that sort of demand.

So is Apple going soft, or seeing the world the way it is and embracing the ‘unofficial leak’ as a legitimate part of the marketing effort?