If you’re an avid follower of Apple rumors, you’d be excused for wondering exactly what the heck is going on in Cupertino these days. The last couple of weeks has seen stories retracting several previously suggested features, shipping time frames, or even entire products.
But, if you’ll pardon me unlimbering my bat for a game of inside baseball, all this only illustrates the many and varied reasons that such rumors should be taken with entire chunks of salt. It’s not simply because they’re rumors, but rather because of the nature of how many of those who report such rumors acquire the details in the first place.
Rumors, like sausage and political policy, are a little less magical when you see exactly how they’re made, so join me on this journey inside the rumor mill. You may never look at them the same way again.
Not so solid ground
Let’s take, as one example, a late-breaking rumor that the iPhone 15 Pro may not include solid-state volume buttons. The original report that the phone would feature such technology dates back to October 2022, and both it and the more recent retraction are credited to frequently cited analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.
The vast majority of Apple rumors these days–especially those related to hardware–originate from the supply chain. Why the supply chain? Apple itself is notoriously tight-lipped about future products, and while the company’s personnel do occasionally talk to reporters off the record, it’s fairly rare (and even rarer in any tacitly approved capacity). But Apple ships hundreds of millions of devices every year, which requires the work of hundreds of other companies involved in the production of components and the assembly of products.
As good as Apple’s security may be, it’s considerably harder to keep a lid on hundreds of companies with thousands of employees–some information is bound to leak out. (Ben Franklin said three might keep a secret if two of them are dead–I’m not sure he envisioned the size of Apple’s enterprise.)
But it’s important to remember that the information that does come out of the supply chain isn’t the whole picture, but rather only a little slice of it. In the particular case of the solid-state buttons rumor, it may be, for example, that Apple was at one point testing such a technology, but ultimately deemed that it wasn’t good enough yet.
(One quibble with the report of the retraction: the timeline. While the rumor might be surfacing only now, the decision to shift away from solid-state buttons was almost certainly made some time ago. With a new iPhone shipping in the fall, April is late in the game for the company to make such a significant design choice. Kuo’s report references the Engineering Verification Test (EVT) milestone, but that may simply be because the EVT model doesn’t have the solid-state buttons, not necessarily indicating that the decision was made now.)
Supply chain-based rumors are dicey to begin with and have only gotten more so in recent years. Why? Well, as Apple would describe it, because of the macroeconomic situation. Take, for example, the recent report about the on-again, off-again production of a 27-inch mini-LED display. Conflicting rumors suggest that the display is both dead and alive–a Schrodinger’s monitor, if you will.
What complicates these types of reports in recent years are the impacts of the pandemic and ensuing supply-chain complications. A number of Apple products have debuted at times that can seem a bit head-scratching to the company’s watchers, but which can be chalked up to things like factory shutdowns, COVID restrictions, and component shortages.
Those issues obviously affect upcoming products as well, though perhaps not to the same degree as they did during the height of the pandemic. The key detail is, if you’ll excuse the truism, that the future is uncertain, and the farther out one tries to divine the company’s intentions, the murkier things are. It’s best to view any rumor predicting products two or three years off as speculation at best.
The most important thing to remember about Apple rumors is the things they lack visibility into. Details like marketing and pricing, for example, tend to be far more closely held, since that information is generally the purview of the company’s high-level executives, and just doesn’t make its way down to the supply chain.
As a corollary, the information that is available at those low levels doesn’t always translate to the expected conclusion. Take, as one example, the aforementioned 27-inch display. Just because such a component is something Apple’s evinced an interest in doesn’t immediately make it clear what product such a piece might be used for: is it a standalone display? A larger iMac? It’s hard to tell when you’re only seeing a piece of the picture.
For another more salient case, let’s look at the recent report that the rumored Apple headset wouldn’t go into mass production until later this year. Some drew the conclusion that such a complication meant that Apple wouldn’t show off the headset at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference.
But Apple often shows off its first-generation well in advance of shipping: it did just that with the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and even the original Apple TV. Given that WWDC is a perfect time to announce a new platform, especially with the company wanting buy-in from the developer community, not shipping the full device until later in the fall is hardly a showstopper.
Building complex devices at the scale Apple does certainly comes with its risks in terms of secrecy, but it’s important to remember how much Apple values control. Sometimes when a detail makes its way into the public eye, it’s worth wondering exactly who benefits from such a disclosure and why.