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Just a Thought - Cone of Silence

by - June 25th, 2004

Psst! Wanna know a secret?

If it has anything to do with Apple, uttering those words to some Apple watchers would elicit such a torrent of Pavlovian-induced saliva you'd be wise to wear a rain slicker and hip-boots. So when some poor schmoe at Toshiba got a wee bit loose in the lips about the new 1.8" hard drives and Apple possibly signing on to use them in future iPods, the media was all over it like vultures on fresh Arizona roadkill.

You can bet your iPod mini that person is wondering where her next paycheck is coming from right about now. Well, maybe she only got her hand slapped, but what that unfortunate soul has run headlong into, my friends, is Apple's dreaded CONE OF SILENCE (Dun, dun, dun, daaaaaaah!).

Apple, as anyone who knows anything about the company will tell you, is famous for keeping secrets. Its crack legal beagles sniff out offending photos and specs almost before the electrons have settled on whatever serves them, and not-so gentle requests to remove the data are issued with surgical skill. Witness the recent photo of the rumored guts of a new G5 Power Mac that was posted over at AppleInsider.

"Apple presented AppleInsider with a cease and desist within 6 hours after we first published the article," Kasper Jade, Top Dog at AppleInsider told me when I asked him about the infamous heatsink photo. "It's almost Summer time and there is that buzz in the air surrounding new Apple announcements. It's usually around this time that Apple Legal starts firing off cease and desist letters faster than silver bullets at a Colorado Rockies home game."

Sure, Apple has a right to keep its secrets secret; after all, guessing what Apple has hidden behind door number one is part of the fun being an Apple fan. But the guys at AppleInsider have just as much right to publish anything they feel is newsworthy -- free press, and all that -- even pix of Power Mac guts. It's a case of two rights making some very interesting legal dance steps.

Post a photo
Cease and Desist
Post some cool specs
Cease and Desist

So, is the Cone of Silence (CoS) really necessary? I mean, what would it hurt if Apple, to paraphrase Dr. Evil, threw us a friggin bone every so often?

Well, for starters, one of Apple's trump cards is its designers, both hardware and software. These folks toil long and hard to produce that WOW-factor that everyone has come to expect from Apple. Without the CoS protecting new products, Apple loses some of that WOW, which may translate into lost sales, and Apple competitors could gain valuable information early enough to copy or counter whatever coolness Apple has in store.

Still, it could be argued that Apple depends entirely too much on the WOW-factor, which becomes increasingly true as Apple makes further inroads into the realm of corporate IT: Knowing what's coming down the pike 6 months from now helps CIOs plan and allocate resources accordingly; unlike the rest of us, most CIO's hate surprises.

And yet, interest in tidbits of info -- like the G5 heat sink photo that use to be at AppleInsider -- I see as a good sign; it says that people are still interested in Apple. I think I'd be more concerned if nobody paid any attention to what Apple intends to do with tiny hard drives and heat sinks.

What really strips my gears, however, is when the CoS extends to cover things that Apple really shouldn't be silent about; like security issues. CNet News did a recent review of Apple and how it dealt with security issues and found that Jobs and crew does a good job spitting out security conscious update, but needs to learn to communicate better. Even Apple VP, Phil Schiller, agrees that Apple needs to work on its communication skills.

Does that mean the CoS is cracking? Will we see a new era of openness from Apple where both problems and products alike get aired so that consumers and CIOs can make intelligent decisions about Apple products?

If the recent Security Update is any indication, I'd say Apple may have learned its lesson about keeping its users informed about security concerns, and will open up a bit more than any of us are used to. But in general, no, the CoS will likely remain as impenetrable as the Gates of Modor. It is part of the culture of Apple, after all, and who'd want to muss that up? And I, for one, like surprises.

Speaking of which, did anyone see Airport Express coming? See? Surprises!

is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

You can send your comments directly to me, or you can also post your comments below.

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