This year, we have witnessed what appears to be an unprecedented number of believable iPhone parts leaks. Each week, some new component or photo makes its way onto the Web. And if the leaks are real — they certainly look real — then almost nothing about the forthcoming “iPhone 5″ is a secret. Sure, we don’t “know” everything about the device — but more or less, the proverbial cat seems to have slipped out of the bag. So, what exactly is going on in Cupertino? Has Tim Cook lost control? Or has Apple employed some other, more calculated strategy?
The most obvious answer to the parts-leak conundrum is that component manufacturers in China, and around the world, simply have lost some of their respect (or fear) for Apple now that Tim Cook is in charge and co-founder Steve Jobs is gone. After the company released the “new iPad” last year, its main slogan for the Retina-enhanced device was the made-up marketing word “Resolutionary.” I literally laughed out loud when I first saw it plastered in 1000-point font across Apple.com. To this day, it sounds like a word invented for QVC, yet Apple used it for months.
For me — a 100 percent Apple outsider — the tackiness of “Resolutionary” was the first visible (albeit tiny) crack in Apple’s meticulously constructed corporate wall. Then came the whole EPEAT debacle. In June, Apple removed all 39 of its products from the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, a registry that rates consumer products’ for their impact on the environment. The move caused Apple customers — many of whom I would wager had never even heard of EPEAT in the past — to freak out with righteous indignation. The removal of Apple’s lineup was a bold move, after all, from a PR perspective. But Apple has never shied away from bold in the past. Less than a week later, however, Apple completely reversed its decision, and handed its Macs and i-devices back to EPEAT. Not only that, but the company actually said it was sorry. Sorry! Sorry? Apple doesn’t say “sorry.” Even when Apple’s iPhone 4 was found to have a defective antenna in 2010 (no service if you hold it the wrong way), then-CEO Steve Jobs refused to apologize. Instead, he told everyone to “calm down,” and gave away some free bumper cases to end the controversy. For the last decade, Apple has told us what to think, not the other way around. Crack number two.
Cook has strayed from Jobs’s hard-lined path in a number of other ways. When faced with criticism over the treatment of workers of Apple’s manufacturing partners in China, Apple pushed for third-party inspections of Foxconn factories. He decided to pay out dividends to investors — something Steve Jobs avoided. And, most recently, Apple pulled a series of Genius ads after they were harshly criticized in the press. That’s right: Not only did Apple make some uncharacteristically bad ads, but they were shamed into taking the off the air.
And now we have all these leaks — leaks that fuel the rumors that Apple says hurt its bottom line. After all, if you know a new iPhone is coming soon, would you slap down hundreds of dollars on something that’s about to become outdated? Probably not. That said, if the leaks are real, then the next iPhone is going to be pretty darn boring — like the iPhone 4S again, just a bit taller, with a different dock connector, and a headphone jack moved to the bottom. Whoopie!
TechCrunch’s John Biggs, who seems equally perplexed by Apple’s softening nature, tries to explain the leaks with the admittedly “far-fetched” theory that “Apple needs to telegraph the changes they are planning to the [next iPhone's] dock and, as a result, are forced to release more test hardware than usual. This hardware is falling into the wrong hands.” In other words, more peripheral manufacturers are getting demo units and some of them are leaking pictures and information — betraying Apple.
Far-fetched or not, Biggs’s theory is as good as I’ve heard so far. But I have another, even less-plausible explanation: Apple hasn’t grown weak at all. Instead, Cook has used the great resources at Apple’s disposal to launch a covert disinformation campaign. The leaked Apple parts are not real — or, at least, they are not parts that will make up the sixth-generation iPhone. They are decoys released by Apple, or on Apple’s behalf, to throw the tech blogosphere off its trail. The REAL new iPhone will look nothing like these leaked components.
As difficult to pull off as this might be, it would have a great effect for Apple. First, it would allow the company to still surprise everyone when they officially release the new iPhone. In turn, this would release an endless flow of positive comments from the technology media about the device, and how Apple, under Cook, has “still got it.” Seriously, it would be a virtual orgy of fanboyish congratulations. End result: Apple sells even more iPhone units that it would have otherwise.
It would also show the technology blogs who’s boss. If Apple can trick everyone with fake leaks, then the already-sketchy rumor articles we all know and despise will become even more dubious. Perhaps that will result in more conservative reporting, thus stifling the Apple rumor mill altogether, which would also theoretically help sales.
Wild as this may sound, a similar thing happened during last year’s “iPhone 5″ rumor mess. The tech press was convinced Apple would release a tear-drop-shaped smartphone with a larger screen. Instead, Apple release the iPhone 4 with Siri, a better camera, and slightly improved hardware. The only thing wrong with last year’s confusion was that the rumored device was infinitely more interesting than what Apple ultimately offered. If it could turn the tables and make everyone think that it’s releasing one thing, then actually come out with something way better, then Apple will have won on all counts.
I’m going to save you some energy and call my own theory bunk from the start. Even if Apple has the resources to wage such a disinformation campaign, it would still be a tough move to pull off — one that could very well cost a lot of money. And it’s not like Apple’s iPhone sales are hurting — not yet, anyway. Still, I’m going to hold onto this idea as a dream, a hope that Apple is still the baddest company in town, one capable of creating mind-blowing devices that change what I think is possible in personal electronics; A company that doesn’t say things like “Resolutionary,” and never says “sorry,” even when it clearly should. That is the Apple I knew. And when the new iPhone is unveiled in the next few weeks, we’ll find out if that Apple remains.
Image via Andrey Bayda/Shutterstock