How Apple Does Controlled Leaks

| Analysis

Monday's article at the Wall Street Journal, which provided confirmation of an Apple tablet device, had all the earmarks of a controlled leak. Here's how Apple does it.

Often Apple has a need to let information out, unofficially. The company has been doing that for years, and it helps preserve Apple's consistent, official reputation for never talking about unreleased products. I know, because when I was a Senior Marketing Manager at Apple, I was instructed to do some controlled leaks.

The way it works is that a senior exec will come in and say, "We need to release this specific information. John, do you have a trusted friend at a major outlet? If so, call him/her and have a conversation. Idly mention this information and suggest that if it were published, that would be nice. No e-mails!"

The communication is always done in person or on the phone. Never via e-mail. That's so that if there's ever any dispute about what transpired, there's no paper trail to contradict either party's version of the story. Both sides can maintain plausible deniability and simply claim a misunderstanding. That protects Apple and the publication.

In the case of yesterday's story, Walt Mossberg was bypassed so that Mr. Mossberg would remain above the fray, above reproach. Also, two journalists at the WSJ were involved. That way, each one could point the finger at the other and claim, "I thought he told me to run with this story! Sorry."

Finally, the story was posted online late Monday, eastern time, so no one could ever suggest there was any attempt to manipulate the stock market.

The net result is that Apple gets the desired information published by a major Wall Street news outlet, but can always claim, if required, it was all an editorial misunderstanding. The WSJ is protected as well.

__________________

Controlled leaks are almost always the solution to a problem. In this case, it could have been that Apple needed to release the tablet information early because they wanted:

  • to light a fire under a recalcitrant partner
  • to float the idea of the US$1,000 price point and gauge reaction
  • to panic/confuse a potential competitor about whom Apple had some knowledge
  • to whet analyst and observer expectations to make sure the right kind and number of people show up at the (presumed) January 26 event. Apple hates empty seats and demands SRO at these events.

 

Of course, if Wall Street draws the right conclusions, and AAPL goes up, as it has, then everybody benefits. But the manipulation of stock is never the purpose. It's simply a favorable outcome of the process. Again, Apple is protected.

That's how Apple does controlled leaks, and the WSJ article from yesterday was a classic example.

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48 Comments Leave Your Own

Bryan Chaffin

Thanks for the great insight, John. I’ve always been fascinated in the ways that the corporate world mirror (or reflect) the political realm. Assuming you are right - and you are usually right - this is certainly one of those ways. smile

Paul

Actually this method is also an invention of Nokia and all news coming out of Apple is embargoed!

John Dingler

Wondering how much of the rumored 3D interface was adapted from the experimental 3D interface from, I think, the time of System 8.

I downloaded and manipulated the GUI. It was a brilliant visual and manipulative experience. Being experimental, it had no significant apps. It was developed by that free form method whose goal was to discover new things unexpectedly.

I think Apple introduced it before Jobs II, before Jobs returned to force Apple coders and designers to narrow their focus to a few products that had the promise of a quicker return on investment because of Apple’s dire fiscal difficulties, bad reputation, and the loss of independent developers.

Now Apple is in the opposite state of affairs, having the confidence to perhaps revisit those technologies and proven concepts that it developed in its days of free form skunkworks.

jbruni

Compare this method with Microsoft holding a media event to announce that there are no security issues to be addressed this month.

http://www.zdnetasia.com/news/security/0,39044215,39161124,00.htm

brett_x

Paul- are you suggesting that Nokia has a patten on that too?

Bryan Chaffin

I took Paul’s post to be a quip on Nokia accusing Apple of violating Nokia’s patents with every product it makes. I thought it amusing. smile

Paul

Its just a poke at Nokia.  Please don’t take it seriously, but if you do mistakenly take it seriously, I own the patent on that.  Just ask my wife grin

marcsten

MIcrosoft says no patch this month. ‘Only’ eight new flaws in IE? That IS a good month.  -.-

cb50dc

...it could have been that Apple needed to release the tablet information early because they wanted:...

? Just to mess with us. wink

xmattingly

Great article, John. I’m always interested in the way Apple’s inner workings function, and since you’ve been there/done that this was very insightful.

graxspoo

I still think the tablet is a misdirection. Who needs a laptop with no keyboard for $1000? You can’t conveniently watch movies on it because it doesn’t stand up by itself. You can’t type on it because the screen isn’t at a convenient angle relative to the (virtual) keyboard. Jobs thinks that print media is dead and that the Kindle is not worth worrying about… And then they come out with a Kindle killer? I don’t think so. Even if this is supposed to compete with the Kindle, it doesn’t have the battery life, or the easy-to-read electronic ink screen. Why does anyone think this is a great idea? What would you use it for? If this is real it may be Apple’s “Segue”: A great idea, that no one wants.

John Martellaro

graxspoo: you raise some interesting points.  Perhaps the reason the iTablet is so late is because SJ felt the same way and demanded a solution from his engineers.

xmattingly

Who needs a laptop with no keyboard for $1000?

Obviously as you pointed out, it’s not full featured enough to compete as a laptop. But I think it’ll be more useful than a netbook, and a heck of a lot nicer for multimedia. So I’m still predicting a price point between $600 and $800; somewhere in that curve between iPhones/high end iPods and the lowest price Macbook.

scott

Along the lines of what xmattingly wrote, I think the iTablet will be purposefully have less features than a laptop.  Compared to a iPhone, the laptop is cumbersome, and compared to a desktop, it is slow. 

I think Apple wants to start selling desktops again (the new 27” iMacs are sweet), but realizes that people are increasingly mobile.  That’s why the iTablet will be positioned between the laptop and iPhone in terms of size, price, and ability. 

Who needs a laptop with no keyboard for $1000?

A family with a desktop. Apple wants to sell you a desktop and an iTablet, not just one laptop.  Thus you have ultimate power in the desktop (and full OS X) and a very good ratio of power/size in the iTablet (with an OS between iPhone OS and Mac OS in terms of features).  More money for Apple, more usability for the consumer.  Laptops were just a stepping stone.

Michael Houghton

Earmarks?? The expression is “has all the hallmarks of”, not “has all the earmarks of”, is more generally used to mean “shows signs of being the work of”, and doesn’t make sense in this context anyway.

John Martellaro

From the Mac OS X dictionary:

“? a characteristic or identifying feature : this car has all the earmarks of a classic.”

John Davis

Wondering how much of the rumored 3D interface was adapted from the experimental 3D interface from, I think, the time of System 8.

I downloaded and manipulated the GUI. It was a brilliant visual and manipulative experience. Being experimental, it had no significant apps. It was developed by that free form method whose goal was to discover new things unexpectedly.

John: I’ve been trying to find information on that 3D interface for quite some time. I remember seeing screenshots of this project years ago, when Apple actually had a “labs” section on their site and posted examples of what they were working on. I had no idea that there was any downloadable software, though.

Could you send me whatever you happen to have on this? I’ve always been interested in old Apple technology and experiments, and I’d love to see this again.

- John

jadavis99@gmail.com

xmattingly

has all the earmarks of

Yes, the characteristics of a pork barrel product leak. smile

xopher

The 3-D UI you’re talking about wasn’t the x-plugin, was it? Maybe called something else, but definitely had X in the name, was in the very early days of browsers and the web. Was a plug-in that allowed you to “fly-through” a 3-D sitemap of a website where each page was represented as a “pill” shaped button (much like an aqua submit button.)

It worked great in the browser, but was rather pointless from a functional perspective.

Bob

Someone needs to record and leak the phone call. Touche!

vanzorn

The abandoned 3D GUI:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HotSauce

John Dingler

Hi Xopher,
I don’t know if it was a standalone or a plugin. I think the former.

The Apple 3D GUI allowed you to zoom in and out, much like the look of the GUI of the Apple backup utility, Time Machine, except that, as the icon objects that represented the files (perhaps folders too) receded into the illusionistic distance, they got smaller (or larger) and more of them arrived in (or departed) from the sides, top, and bottom, much like the planets would appear to the star fleet captain as he observes them through the main window while the spaceship zooms through planetary space.

I believe that simply pressing the Apple native one button mouse, keeping it pressed, and dragging the cursor up toward the top or to the bottom of the screen would activate the illusionistic movement into deeper or shallower space. I also think that the icons in space were color coded, but, based on what (i.e., files or folders, etc.), I don’t know.

John Dingler

Hi John Davis,
As I moved from OS9 to OSX, I left most of those kind of files on the previous HD that I stored away. Since I gave away the pre-OSX Mac, I no longer have a way to access the files on that HD, otherwise I would and could tell you more. I don’t even know its provisional name. I wonder if Wiki would…nah, it was not even released so there is little reason for Wiki to even write about it unless it was in an article titled, say, “Experimental (or Unreleased) GUIs”.

Jim

The 3-D web interface created by Apple was called HotSauce.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HotSauce

Will Emerson

Add another reason. Microsoft is announcing a tablet on Thursday.

Chilton

The 3D interface was first Project-X, then it became Hotsauce. It was created by R.V. Guha in Apple’s Advanced Technology Group, which I think no longer exists. He moved on, and joined Netscape, and was a significant force behind some lower level technology we use today… SOAP, XML, or something like that. I seriously doubt the iSlate has any of that.

Project-X

But whatever it is, if it’s a Tablet Mac, count me in.

Why a Tablet Mac will Absolutely, Positively, Succeed

-Chilton

ibuck

I’ve been badgering Apple to release a larger iPod Touch or Tablet (for reading ebooks, note-taking, hand-writing recognition, sketching, dictionary, email, iTunes, app store, etc) because the Touch is too small for lengthy reading or accurate, rapid typing. I suggested it use Apple Remote Desktop to wirelessly connect to your desktop or laptop Mac for more intensive computing than the device’s processor or battery could handle. I suspect that video/movie capabilities would really push the battery and storage capacity. I’ve been pretty stoked about the possibility of this device, but now that it’s been “leaked” at a $1,000 price point, my enthusiasm is very diminished. At that price, a laptop makes more sense. Despite not knowing it’s capabilities, $500 to $700 would be more reasonable to me, because the alternative could very well be a netbook running Chrome.

John Davis

Thanks John, Jim, xopher, and vanzorn. I didn’t even know about HotSauce. That’s cool, although, as xopher said, not particularly practical smile

What I initially remembered wasn’t a web technology, though. I think John described what I’m referring to - it was a 3D version of the Mac desktop. Icons got smaller the farther back they were, and the desktop itself receded into the distance Time Machine-style.

I don’t, unfortunately, remember what this project was called. I’m still amazed they offered it for download.

BillHoo

So what does it take to make an Apple Tablet something more than a laptop without a keyboard?

- take away the hard drive
- take away media with moving parts (ie. CD, DVD, floppy drives)
- take away traditional network connection plugs (CAT 5, phone plug, fiber)
- Remove tradional concept of power plug and charging cradle

- make it rugged, almost bullet-proof, spill-proof, or make it rubbery and rollable?
- make it thin and lite
- have power absorbed (Tesla technology?) thru the air
- Use flash memory or even better….iPods!
- Fancy touch and better voice recognition
- New OS-X on the way?
- Newer Fast wifi, mifi, or something else to connect to access point or Apple TV?

Joe

I’m still waiting for a *real* remote desktop solution for Mac OS X:  An underpowered (relative to a laptop) but large (compared to the Touch) touchscreen that can make a connection to my Desktop (a real virtual session not just screen sharing), and can also work on it’s own outside the house as a Touch-type device would be killer IMHO.

Brad Brighton

The 3-D UI you?re talking about wasn?t the x-plugin, was it? Maybe called something else, but definitely had X in the name, was in the very early days of browsers and the web. Was a plug-in that allowed you to ?fly-through? a 3-D sitemap of a website where each page was represented as a ?pill? shaped button (much like an aqua submit button.)

Monday’s article

Off topic, but:

HotSauce, AKA Project X

http://www.macintoshgarden.org/apps/apples-hotsauce-technology-project-x

BillHoo

can make a connection to my Desktop (a real virtual session not just screen sharing), and can also work on it?s own outside the house as a Touch-type device would be killer IMHO.

Now that’s a great idea.  How about taking it further - Automaated remote clustering?

Apple tablets that can not only remote to Apple desktops and draw on those resources, but in the wild, they communicate with other tablets and help each other out with things like downloading large web pages and such?  (ie five tablets in a room, two are in use and three are not.  You cue up a large complex website and the tablet coordinates with others utilizing 4 connections to the network and each taking a small part of the job which is assembled finally on your tablet.  It might make things go super fast!

Get a hundred of them in the room and you have the power of a Cray Super-computer in your palm!

The software itself is not that revolutionary.  Used to do it with a bunch of old beige Mac G3s and some freeware.

Damien

They definitely panicked the competition - Amazon just announced they’re releasing Kindle Big internationally, rush job?

Jen

I’m hoping Apple hasn’t leaked evreything and that the company still has a few surprising features up its sleeves.

Such as… A holographic display so people can type on the screen and watch their words magically appear above the device. Would I pay a thousand bucks then? Hells to the yes.

Smirge Benigly

Thank you.  When I become CEO of Apple, this will be very helpful to know.

Jen

Not if I invent it first, Smirge.

(Er, now accepting investors…)

Medman

Media management at best, only from Apple!

Chris

Apple is the “Penn and Teller” of the business world. smile

gslusher

Someone needs to record and leak the phone call. Touche!

Depending upon the state, that could result in a bit more than a finger-wagging. In many states, recording a telephone conversation without the approval of all parties (or a court order/warrant, in the case of law enforcement) is illegal. A while back, there was a bit of a scandal when a couple in Maryland (I think—could have been Delaware) somehow intercepted a conference call involving the Republican Congressional leadership. The couple recorded the call and sold it to a news outlet. They very nearly found themselves in prison.

MAK

The cheapest advetising. Apple likes it so much!

Johnny Appleseed

From the Mac OS X dictionary:

?? a characteristic or identifying feature : this car has all the earmarks of a classic.?

Funny, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard it used in that context.

But hallmarks is still preferable:

? a distinctive feature, esp. one of excellence

Grenville Hamlyn

I’m pretty sure the fly through thing was called Hot Sauce

Ryan

Very interesting, and a great move by Apple.

Phlak

I wouldn’t really get my hopes up that much.  Considering it’s going to be another mobile device and the most likely catalyst for it’s release would be the success of the app store, I think I might be able to make a few speculations as to the nature of this beast.

Locked in - besides the enormous markup that Apple places on their products they also enjoy locking you in to using specific services that they can squeeze the most money out of.  Expect some version of iPhone OS to be installed.

Limitations - Why mess with a good thing? Since this is supposedly the bastard child of an iPod and a Macbook I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that the internal storage will be non-expandable and that it’ll be the only way of saving your info besides backing it up by syncing.

Are you talking to me? - Wifi may show some improvement over what the iPod and iPhone can offer but the battery life will suffer (3 hours tops with touch screen and wifi use). What did you expect, this isn’t exactly an ultra portable device now is it? No GPS because it’s not a phone. A2DP bluetooth and strict limitations on what can connect over it.  May or may not be a secondary input for your computer, if so, only for OSX.

Glass cannon - So many features and polish packed into 10 inches can only mean one thing, you’re going to use that 1 year warranty which, fortunately for Apple, doesn’t cover you sitting on it or even being exposed to a light drizzle outside for 3 seconds or heaven forbid a few snowflakes should hit the edges of the screen.

Pay to play - Ahhh, apps, Apple’s cash cow.  Don’t expect to be running much heavy duty software on this one.  You’ll only be running Apple approved software bought through the app store and will have to move lock step with OS updates, paid or free, in order to keep using them.

Ars Apple - Carrot: front facing camera, built in mic, larger screen, larger capacity.  Stick: two variations the gimped model and the one they advertise, I’ll let you guess how they differ. Social pressure has always been a wonderful motivator for the neurotic.

xmattingly

Locked in - besides the enormous markup that Apple places on their products…etc, etc

“Squeak, squeak”, said the troll. <yawn>

Craig Pearce

Is it just me, or is there an elephant in the room nobody is referring to? Namely, if Apple ‘publicly’ purport not to talk about unreleased products, but then do some strategic whispering to media et al, isn’t that somewhat two-faced and unethical?

Or have I missed the point here?

MAK

Craig Pearce wrote: ...If Apple ‘publicly’ purport not to talk about unreleased products, but then do some strategic whispering to media et al, isn’t that somewhat two-faced and unethical?

Come on! We are talking about the trade, not about the fragile emotions in soap opera! The ethics here is, namely, the ruling of the customers. If they reject the product, not because it is bad or good, but because they were treated with deception, or like stupid, the product maker should get the message, or disappear. If this is not happening, this practice will continue.
On advertising Steve Jobs is known as cheap bastard. He likes the hype doing this job instead of him. It makes him comfortable not to finish not-announced product, or to quit it last minute. Also, all the industry is waiting what Apple will do after all failed. If details doesn’t appear six months before the product is out, Apple will have this advantage over copycats.
To control the presentation of new product, with mouths-shut (and controlled leaks too) is legitimate as any other strategy. The risk is not pushing it too hard to make customers uncomfortable. But to work in Apple with it’s security system against uncontrolled leaks, I have to admit, must be a nightmare.
Remember the punchline of the 1984. ad? “And that is why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984’” - what an irony!

Dave

Interesting, I figured they were doing this, from all the good rumor websites around the internet (ie: theislateinsider.com) makes you wonder where some of this information comes from…!

Dave

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