Apple, Oct. 22 and the Fading Element of Surprise
While Apple's secrecy and fancy reveals under Steve Jobs were masterful efforts that resulted in millions of "free" marketing dollars, I'm hard-pressed to say that Apple's current situation, where rumor and scrutiny are maximized, is any less effective. The most engaged Apple consumers are able to follow a steady stream of rumors and leaked photos, all the while thinking about Apple and Apple's products.
Apple's traditional autumn iPad announcement event is slated for Oct. 22 this year, and while we don't know exactly where the event will go down, it seems pretty clear to just about any Apple-watching newshound that Apple will announce new iPads with the new 64-bit A7 processor.
Some are claiming Apple will slim down the current iPad, retaining the screen size, while others believe Apple will jam a Retina display into the iPad mini.
Of course, it's hard to imagine that Apple will let a stage opportunity go by without also spending some time gushing over its upcoming sexy Mac Pro and updated version of OS X, aka Mavericks.
Last year, Apple introduced the hot-selling iPad mini, a 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display, and a newly trimmed and slimmed iMac.
In any case, if Apple is going to introduce any new product this year, we'll hear about it Oct. 22; the company wraps up its products so that they'll all be ready for end-of-year holiday sales. Will we get anything new and surprising before the end of this innovation season? More importantly, with Apple's huge and leaky supply chain, can Apple even surprise us any more?
The Secrets Are Internal
While Samsung can produce a curved new smartphone without much big hoopla before its arrival, Apple can't. Somewhere along the supply and manufacturing chain someone will sneak some photos or find a batch of components before they reach an incinerator.
Case in point? Photos of Apple's 5th-generation iPad design in its latest "Space Grey" color -- and that's just a case for a 5th-generation product!
This is not to say that Apple can't keep secrets. In fact, I think Apple can keep secrets -- and that the company is fundamentally changing because of all the scrutiny it gets, both from the press and from financial analysts.
Take, for example, the new Mac Pro. Apple preannounced the totally new round and black Mac this summer at its Worldwide Developers Conference -- far in advance of actual delivery. It surprised everyone. Of course, Apple had been under pressure to update the Mac Pro for some time, so preannouncing the device had less to do with keeping and revealing a secret than it did with satisfying its professional community of customers.
Still, the point remains: Apple can create innovative new products and whisk them directly from the secret lair of master designer Jony Ive without someone in some far-off land posting up nefarious photos.
Consequently, I think the days of Apple being able to reveal a surprising new product -- and then ship it to millions of customers within a week or two -- are long gone.
If Apple produces a cool new "iWatch" we'll see the iWatch well before it goes into mass production. Same goes for any other major new product, like a large-size Apple HDTV.
I even think that if Apple were going to change the form factor of the existing Apple TV -- or Mac mini -- it will come as a preannounced surprise. The alternative is trying to get it built and losing most of the surprise to rumor sites.
The Price of Rumors
While Apple's secrecy and fancy reveals under Steve Jobs were masterful efforts that resulted in millions of "free" marketing dollars, I'm hard-pressed to say that Apple's current situation, where rumor and scrutiny are maximized, is any less effective.
The most engaged Apple consumers are able to follow a steady stream of rumors and leaked photos, all the while thinking about Apple and Apple's products and how Apple fits into their lives -- and how Apple products might fit into their lives.
What's that worth? More or less than a grand stage reveal during a media event?
If what I say is true, does this mean that Apple won't have any major new products ready to ship by the holidays? I'm afraid so. If we're lucky, Apple might show off a fitness-oriented iWatch -- or just wait until January when people are into self-improvement with their New Year's resolutions.
A big-screen Apple TV? Doubtful. New brains in the current Apple TV black puck? I'm hopeful.
I'm also curious to see if Apple will take a page from Microsoft's Surface playbook and produce its own keyboard/case/cover solution for a more powerful 64-bit iPad (read: laptop replacement). Apple produced a dockable keyboard years ago ... is it time for a fresh Apple take on the idea? Maybe.
Either way, I fear that Apple's days of "surprise and ship" are long gone -- at least when it comes to any major new product.