Separating Apple rumor from reality

Before we go any further, I’d appreciate it if you’d reach into whatever browser you’re using to read these words and invoke the Save Bookmark command.

I’ll wait.

Done? Good. I beg this favor because there will come a day when your head is full of the wildest, most far-fetched fantasies and I ask you to take a couple of very deep, very calming breaths, retrieve this article, and read it carefully. Now to the meat of the thing.

Living la vida loco

There’s something about Apple events that causes normally thoughtful people to lose their senses. Take Monday’s Worldwide Developers Conference 2012 keynote, for example. As its name clearly states, WWDC is a conference for developers and therefore the content of the keynote is largely tailored to the people sitting in the room (though it’s also a press event and so portions of it speak more broadly to the world at large).

This means that Apple uses these events for things like announcing new operating systems or providing more detail on an operating system soon to be released. Such was the case with iOS 6 and OS X Mountain Lion. If hardware is announced it too has a developer bent—so, a powerful Mac or two that would be used by the professional market. Again, Monday’s MacBook Pro with Retina Display nicely fills the bill as it’s powerful, forward looking, and not entirely cheap.

If we were talking about any other company, a person well-versed in the company’s history would look at what it’s done in the past as well as examine where the company is today and be able to reasonably guess what’s going to happen tomorrow, barring any rabbits pulled from hats.

But when it’s Apple, people who should know better imbue the company with magical powers. These people (many of them writing for perfectly respectable websites) suggested that Apple would announce an Apple-branded HDTV, that every display-bearing Mac in the Apple product line would be refreshed to accommodate a retina display, that Tim Cook would open his shirt to reveal an iPhone 5 dangling from a gold chain…

I mean, really.

How it works

We’ve been through this time and again—huge anticipation for the most unlikely announcements that, when they fail to materialize, lead some to experience great disappointment. So, let’s try again. Despite what you may read on a website or hear tumbling from a “trusted” blogger’s mouth, this is generally how things go with Apple releases.

Pro hardware: Like I said, WWDC. If it’s a speed bump, Apple generally issues a press release and slaps a “New” label on an existing model, as it did with the Mac Pro and releases it any time it feels like.

iPods and iPhones: Apple now treats the iPhone and iPod touch as devices that would look perfect wrapped in holiday paper. Where Apple once announced new iPods at a Fall event, that’s now the place for these two diminutive iOS devices.

The annual release date for portable devices makes sense. If you release The Next Version nine months after The Previous Version, you enrage those people who feel like they just bought the thing. It’s acceptable to flip this kind of tech once a year (or, for most people, once every two years). But flip it more often and your customers get angry.

And when you’re on that kind of schedule, the last thing you want to do it pre-announce something like a new iPhone or iPad and then let the world know that they must wait three months for it. Doing that dries up sales and, again, frustrates those people who recently acquired the soon-to-be-out-of-date model.

iPads: As once with the iPhone, Apple has the iPad on a yearly release schedule. The first-generation iPad went on sale on April 3, 2010. The iPad 2 started selling in limited quantities on March 25, 2011. The third-generation iPad was released in ten countries on March 16, 2012. One needn’t be a card-carrying member of Psychic Workers Local 287 to make a pretty good guess that we’ll see the next iPad when the cherry trees blossom in 2013.

iMacs: Although the iMac is now a very powerful desktop computer rather than just the cool looking family Mac, it still finds its way into a lot of homes and gaily wrapped in festive paper. If you’re looking for new iMacs, autumn is a decent bet.

Rabbits from hats: When Apple has what it believes is its next groundbreaking product, it will call a special event to announce it. Apple now has the power to call events and expect that the press will flock to whatever that event is. It needn’t muck up an existing event to slip in a surprise. Doing so pulls the spotlight off the Groundbreaking Product, and it dilutes the message of the original event.

Apple is clearly keen on secrecy, but that doesn’t mean that its ways are unfathomable. It’s operated along these lines for years. And it has because these lines make a great deal of sense.

And sometimes sense—rather than the deranged reveries of Bob the Blogger—is the best way to predict Apple’s next move.

[Christopher Breen is a senior editor for Macworld.]

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