December 17, 2012 at 2:46 pm

One Reason Apple Rumors Are So Rumor-y


apple rumor headphones

Apple filed a patent for headphones that flip around, access a more powerful amplifier, and turn into speakers. It might or might not lead to an actual product, but let's talk about it anyway.

When I have the option to write about Apple’s plans — which is a lot, considering that they invented the app ecosystem and a great deal of the digital music market — the time inevitably comes when I think about running the idea past Apple to see what its spokespeople think.

Yes, even in these bloggy times, some of us occasionally try to reach out to a source and see what they have to say.

With Apple, I often don’t bother, because I already know what the response is going to be: “no comment.” (This doesn’t hold true for times Apple has wanted to meet with me, or others when its spokespeople have been helpful about clearing up the odd point of confusion).

I’ve been thinking about Apple’s close-to-the-vest approach, because I’m just finishing up teaching an NYU class about the mutual effects Apple and the music business have had on each other in the past 35 some-odd years — at which Apple, of course, declined to appear. As we turned our attention to the company’s unique approach to dealing with the press, it dawned on me that Apple’s radio silence and the crazy rumor mill that accompanies it are probably intertwined.

When faced with radio silence, we tech writers feel freer to speculate. Often, there’s nothing else to do with something like the shred of a rumor that an Apple accessory manufacturer is making cases of a certain size or that a patent has been filed that may nor may not ever turn into an actual product, other than A) to ignore it or B) take an educated guess about what’s going on, because Apple’s unlikely to tell you anything, even off the record.

So, why don’t we just leave it alone (for an example of why that can be a good idea, see Gizmodo’s The Dumbest Apple Rumor of the Year)?

Given that readers have a voracious appetite for seemingly anything to do with Apple, we often feel we have no choice, and go with option “B.” I might even be doing that right now.

When so many consultants preach radical transparency, this is yet another way Apple gets it right by doing it wrong. Most companies want to talk to the press, and employ people to make sure those conversations happen. Apple, on the other hand, knows it holds the cards — and that people are going to talk anyway. By creating an informational vacuum, it actually feeds the rumor mill. It’s a neat trick, though hard or perhaps impossible to replicate, except in rare, lightning-strike instances.