Tech gossip: Between you, me and the blog post

Gossip about the tech industry has become a business in itself. As rumours about Apple's latest products swirl, Simon Usborne reports on the speculation game

In 2002, a report in the New York Times by the veteran tech writer John Markoff reflected concerns about the fate of "Steven P. Jobs", later to be known as Steve. The late Apple boss had launched the iPod a year earlier, three years after the first iMac rebooted a brand. Yet "there are signs," Markoff wrote, "that Mr Jobs… may be approaching a precipice".

Why? Because Apple was reportedly working on some kind of hand-held computer, a device it had failed to make work in the 1990s. This risky new product "would combine elements of a cellphone and a Palm-like personal digital assistant". The company did not comment – it never does – but, Markoff added: "Industry analysts see evidence that Apple is contemplating what inside the company is being called an 'iPhone'."

It was the first mention of the iPhone in mainstream media and, arguably, the first rumour of the sort that now sustains a vast industry within an industry. Almost five years later, in 2007, the first iPhone arrived. The device has done more than any other since to build and fuel the modern tech rumour mill, a global machine of insiders, spies and reporters trading in speculation, leaks and Chinese whispers. But as they spin into a fresh frenzy with the approach of a seventh iPhone, who are they serving? And who's turning the mill?

Officially, we know nothing about the next iPhone. There is no mention of it at Apple.com and the firm's UK press office declined to engage with The Independent for this story. Apple approaches new products as a secret service might imminent military action. Even senior executives can be kept in the dark until launch day.

It's easy to see why. Apple, Samsung and the rest are locked into the most competitive market there is. It's war with spoils worth billions (almost £5bn in the case of Microsoft's swoop for Nokia this week). No side wants the enemy to gain intelligence in advance of a new product, each of which has the power to make or break a business. The consumer, meanwhile, needs to be teased by the expectation of new toys, but not so much that they'll stop buying current models.

Rumours fill the information vacuum. Unofficially, we know Apple's new device will be called the iPhone 5S, that it will be revealed on Tuesday and put on sale on 20 September. We know it will have a fingerprint scanner and a "champagne" colour option. We know Apple will also announce a cheaper model, the 5C, in a plastic shell available in a range of colours. It's all there at the handy round-up pages at MacRumors, one of dozens of similar sites.

The page goes further, while also explaining much about how it says this sub-industry works: "Given the long lead time and massive supply chain required to produce each iPhone, part leaks from Apple's Chinese manufacturers are the most common way for early information to leak. Leaks become more frequent as we approach the launch."

iPhone leaks started last December, the site adds: "in the form of a rear shell part that was very similar to that of the iPhone 5. There were some subtle differences, however, including a change in the layout of the screw holes for mounting the device's logic board." Pictures and video clips have since emerged, mostly on Chinese websites, of packaging, cases, manuals. A young Australian called Sonny Dickson has apparently turned leaking into a sport. He claims Apple and national security agents are frequent visitors to his blog, and that hits generating advertising revenue have made him rich. He reportedly insists: "Some people think I may be breaking the law, but they don't really know what I do. I'm not breaking any laws that other people don't do." Elsewhere, faked images and false rumours are dispensed cynically to generate clicks.

MacRumors started in 2000, an age ago in digital evolution. It was there for the launch of the iPod (its forum thread from that day is entertaining: "All this hype for something so ridiculous! Who cares about an MP3 player?") The site's editor, Eric Slivka, says his biggest scoop involved a Retina display for the third-generation iPad secured from China weeks before launch. "With the display in hand, we were able to some basic microscopy on it to confirm the pixel density," Slivka says by email.

Before the iPhone cemented Apple's place in popular consumer culture, nobody cared enough to deploy microscopes. Michael Bywater was a tech writer 30 years ago when Steve Jobs gave him what he claims to be Britain's first Apple Macintosh. "I used to get most of my information from some fairly senior people in Apple and it was generally on a 'Don't let this get out, but next month we're...'," he writes. "Or, 'We'll be launching X on such and such a date, and here's a pre-production one to play with and, if you like it, spread the word'."

Bywater, 60, hates the way the industry works today: "Someone finds a bit of plastic in a Longhua dumpster and, like a mad archaeologist, reconstructs the Lost City of Troy around it, while another one says, 'No! This is an amazing new DINOSAUR which we'd never suspected', and a third says: 'It's obviously the prototype casing for Apple's answer to Google Glass, which you wear up your arse for the ultimate selfies.' It's getting like the end-of-the-world cults. You make enough predictions, people remember the ones that come true."

Jobs, who died in 2011, often took a dim view of leaks. In 2010 the tech blog Gizmodo struck gold with a prototype iPhone 4 that had been left in a San Francisco bar by an Apple engineer. When it published pictures and details of the device, the site's editor Brian Lam got a call. "Hi, this is Steve," the caller said, "I really want my phone back." In a subsequent email exchange, Lam told Jobs: "Gizmodo lives and dies like many small companies do. When we get a chance to break a story, we have to go with it or we perish."

The benefits of rumours to sites that rely on clicks to survive is plain, but notwithstanding Apple's secrecy and protestations, surely the right rumours boost its bottom line, too. If so, is it not in Apple's interest to control the mill?

"It's pretty rare for Apple to purposely leak rumours, but it does happen," Slivka writes. "Controlled leaks go through a few trusted publications such as The Wall Street Journal, and it's frequently easy to tell based on content and timing when a report is being leaked directly from Apple… potentially to reassure investors and/or customers or to refute inaccurate rumours, or even to draw attention away from its competitors."

Seth Weintraub, founder of 9to5Mac, a MacRumors rival, adds: "Press is press, and Apple gets a lot of attention and many people talking about the products due to rumours… Would the lines be as long on launch if no one knew anything until launch day?"

The company, of course, won't confirm or deny anything, but there is broad recognition that a kind of rumour-industrial complex exists for all big tech firms. "It's marketing distraction and diversion," says Stuart Miles, founder and boss of Pocket-lint, a UK tech site. "You know if you tell this journalist we'll be doing this that the story will dominate the news cycle. That could either mean another story won't get a mention or if it does, you'll get mentioned too."

The millions of hits these sites score indicates an apparently unlimited appetite for rumour, which increasingly also generates stories in mainstream news sites, but less clear is what benefit it brings the average consumer, particularly if the mill turns out to be as reliable as an iPhone battery (rumour has it the new one is bigger, by the way). "Purchasing decisions can be difficult," Slivka says. "Users want to be careful not to buy an expensive computer or mobile device just before an updated version is released."

In the meantime, if Apple does release Bywater's Google Glass rival with an alternative focus, well, remember where you heard it first.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Environment
The vaquita is being killed by fishermen trying to catch the totoaba fish, which is prized in China
environmentJust 97 of the 'world's cutest' sea mammals remain
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

    Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

    Recruitment Genius: Drupal Developer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This consulting firm are searching for an Adva...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst

    £20000 - £26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Desktop Support Analyst - Sutton, Su...

    Opilio Recruitment: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £15k - 18k per year + Benefits & OTE: Opilio Recruitment: Digital Media, Mob...

    Day In a Page

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?