Fear and Loathing in the Apple Rumor Scene

These days, everyone seems to have an opinion on what Apple’s going to do next. It’s not surprising to see analysts base their prediction for Apple stock entirely on an upcoming product. Doing that is fine for, say, Intel, because their roadmap is available for public scrutinity. But for Apple, everything coming next is just a wild guess.

Because people are so interested in what one of the most popular tech companies is doing next, there’s a thriving Mac rumors community on the web. Some sites, like Think Secret, claim to have inside sources within Apple, but more often than not their only source is an anonymous submission. Other sites, such as the newly rebranded MacScoop (previously the infamous MacOSXRumors), pretty much just report on what other sites are saying, with a few embellishments here and there.

This sorry state of affairs wasn’t always the case. Ages ago, Think Secret seemed to really have a contact within Apple, and rumors were enough to encite lawsuits from Apple. Those days are long gone, however, and what’s going on in the world of Apple rumors is well nigh despicable. I’d like you to take a look at these two pictures, both taken from Vienna, of the RSS feeds from AppleInsider and MacRumors. Specifically, the top five items in each list.

AppleInsider RSS

MacRumors RSS

Notice any similarities? Why, you might even go as far as to say they’re identical. Now, you might be thinking, “But Mac Rumor’s goal, as stated on their about page, is ‘…to compile interesting news and rumors from all source to try to create a big picture view of what to expect from Apple, Inc.’ So that makes it okay for them to restate everything AppleInsider does, right?”

Wrong. If they really did bring together news frequently from other sources, Mac Rumors would be doing us a favor. However, AppleInsider is the only rumor site which is frequently updated with what seems to be it’s own rumors. This is especially bad because Mac Rumors gives it’s readers a stripped down version of what AppleInsider reported. Regardless, lets take a closer look at these RSS feeds.

The similarities between the two feeds begin with both sites reporting that Security Update 2006-007 is available. I have a few issues with this one. Firstly, back in OS 9, Apple implemented a wonderful feature called Software Update. It’s default behavior (at least, on 10.4) is to check for updates weekly, then notify the user. If a security hole that Apple patched in this update was anything more than a proof-of-concept for an exploit, then perhaps AppleInsider or Mac Rumors might make the point that in the couple of days it’s likely to take for Software Update to notify the user, they could be maliciously attacked. However, it’s just a proof-of-concept, and so the difference installing the Security Update a few days earlier is absolutely nil for the user.

My second problem with this is that a Security Update being released is news. I don’t go to AppleInsider for news, I go there for rumors. What’s the likelihood that a person reading this on AppleInsider hasn’t read about the Security Update on MacUser, HardMac, Macworld, MacDailyNews, Macsimum News, MacNN, MacMinute, MacNewsWorld, The Mac Observer, MacFixIt, MacAddict, MacInTouch, MacUpdate, VersionTracker, or any of the other countless sites devoted to aggregating Mac news? Really, the only time that it would be prudent to post something like this on a rumor site is if they had predicted it previously. If AppleInsider were to go ahead and predict Security Updates 2006-008, 2006-009, 2006-010, 2007-001 and so on, than sure, they could report such announcements, and state that they were correct in their prediction. However, since they didn’t, I’d rather not see Security Updates on these rumor sites.

Kindly look back up at the RSS feeds again (doesn’t matter which one), and read the tidbit of news right above the Security Update announcement, the one about Universal planning to renegotiate their contract with Apple to get a share of each iPod (which should mean that pirating Universal music should be totally legit, since we’ll already have payed for it, though I’m sure the RIAA will see it differently.) This kind of news, I like to call a non-rumor. In this case it isn’t that bad, since it’s actually based on a quote. But the biggest rumors that any site seem to report on these days, the non-rumors, are blatantly obvious. A monkey with a list of Apple’s current hardware and software line-up could give us this. I think the prime example of this kind of non-rumor reporting can be seen by looking at the weeks preceding Macworld ’06. It seemed that every day, a different site was reporting that various Macs would receive an Intel makeover at the conference. There were reports of iMac upgrades, iBook upgrades, PowerBook upgrades, and Mac mini upgrades. Every computer in Apple’s line-up (excluding the PowerMac, which obviously wouldn’t be upgraded when none of the professional software was Universal) was rumored to be making the jump to Intel. Doing that is like killing all four suspects in a murder investigation because you don’t have any concrete evidence against any of them. And if proof comes postmortem of the guilt of someone in particular, the executors can say that they were justified, which is exactly what happened on Mac rumor sites when Apple released the Intel iMacs and MacBook Pros.

This kind of non-rumoring also occurs frequently with iPod updates as well. Lets say the full size iPod hasn’t been updated in 8 months or so. The rumor sites are likely to be rampant with various rumors from all kinds of sources. Just like before Macworld ’06, these rumors are nothing more than educated guesses. I wish really that each site would offer a separate RSS feed for guesses, so I could just look at the rumors. Or, better yet, split the site in two, so we could have AppleGuessmaker in addition to the rumors-only AppleInsider. Perhaps ThinkSecret could bisect into IfYouCanThink,ThisIsn’tASecret for guesses as well. Every Monday, they could throw a dart at a wall covered with cards like “New iPod Colors”, “Bigger Hard Drives for iPod Nano”, and “Final Cut Update”, and report that Apple would announce whatever the darts hit on the subsequent Tuesday, which could easily turn out to give us more accurate rumors than we get now.

A third prime example of such guessing is with Intel’s recently released Core 2 Duo chips. First, in the months preceding the official announcement, the rumor sites guessed that Apple would announce various computer upgrades to the newer chips immediately subsequent to the announcement, like every other computer maker. When no such announcement occurred from Apple, the rumor sites speculated each and every week that the next Tuesday would hail the arrival of 64-bit goodness for those in the market for a new [insert Apple product here]. When the iMacs were updated, the rumor sites said they were right, and once again predicted upgrades to the laptops. When the MacBook Pros were updated, the rumor sites said they were right, and once again predicted upgrades to the MacBooks. When those were finally upgraded, the rumor sites predicted upgrades to the Mac mini.

In the next few weeks, the rumor sites will indubitably predict what announcements will come from Steve’s keynote at Macworld ’07, from iLife ’07 (who could see that coming) with iPlan to iTV’s with the ability to stream pixie dust from your computer. Does this speculation help anyone? Not really. Is it interesting? Occasionally. It’d be really great if we could see some change around here in the Apple rumor scene. Why doesn’t someone hire a ninja to break into Cupertino and steal the latest iPhone prototypes? Perhaps provide us with rumors with a shred of evidence behind it, rather than just common sense. Is anyone up to the task?

In this day and age, when the Apple rumor scene consists of Mac Rumors restating things an hour or so after AppleInsider does, it’s refreshing to have someone be able to look at what’s going on and parody it in an outstandingly humorous manner. Anyone looking for a reprieve or just a quick laugh should definitely check out the Crazy Apple Rumors Site. With no-holds-barred criticism and unabashed profanity, they’re definitely worth a spot in your RSS reader.

(Anyone even half as annoyed by this as I am should definitely check out two writings on AppleMatters here and here, both great reads which give another in-depth look at the Apple rumor scene.)

(EDIT: Fixed the missing X in MacOSXRumors)

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