Apple's era of secrecy is over

Apple's era of secrecy is over

Summary: Apple introduced the new iPhone 5 today. It was entirely underwhelming. Why? Because we knew about it well ahead of time.

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TOPICS: Apple
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Steve Jobs must be rolling in his grave.

No disrespect to the late Apple chief executive, but it quickly became apparent during the official announcement of the new iPhone 5 today that Apple lost a step in its discipline to keep its corporate mouth shut.

Jobs was always credited with a showman's sense of spectacle, both in his delivery during product announcements and in his iron grip on the spread of information about them ahead of launch. For the latter, it was to preserve a sense of mystery and instill a sense of occasion. That's what surprises are all about. Otherwise, why bother?

If an Apple product announcement leaves one overwhelmed by default -- over the last decade, one has needed no less than a chainsaw to cut through the thick hype surrounding the brand -- the introduction of the iPhone 5 left me merely whelmed. (Grammar sticklers: yes, I realize I'm using that word incorrectly. Lighten up.) Sure, it's taller. Sure, it's lighter. Sure, it's faster. Sure, it's called the iPhone 5, and not the iPhone 4S V-Spec.

But we knew about almost all of that from various leaks in the weeks leading up to the event. (OK, guys, you got us on the processor. But even that bit of information leaked hours before the event. Gosh.)

It is difficult to keep a supply chain in lockstep on the information front. It's even harder when you consider how many of these units need to be made to meet demand. And it's harder still when the gadget-buying public is expecting it anyway: an early Q4 refresh for your most profitable product, at exactly the time you normally refresh it. (At least an employee didn't leave a prototype at the bar this time!)

But the impact of the announcement is severely diminished when the rumors are consistent. The device becomes a sure thing; expected. It's not a matter of if; only when. 

To be fair, Apple can't reinvent the wheel with every model, and critics can certainly complain that it didn't change the device enough to merit a full "1.0" update to its name. And you can argue whether the taller form factor is really an innovative move or a walking-back of a previous line of thought. It's to the company's credit that most of the hard work put into the device will only excite/enrage consumer electronics industry insiders. (How did they get the speaker that small?!) But all that doesn't matter, because we knew already.

Today, the magic was gone. Momentous? Sure. But not magical.

Five things Apple can do to bring the magic back:

1. Change the location of its announcements

2. Change the timing of its announcements

3. Leak misinformation about the next model

4. Plug the real internal/supply chain holes

5. Focus messaging on a single killer product/feature, rather than "It's just overall better, and by the way, we revamped iTunes and the iPod and the earbuds, too"

Topic: Apple

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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10 comments
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  • No it was underwhelming because it was underwhelming, not

    because we'd already heard it all. They just didnt do anything that the competition hasnt already done.
    Johnny Vegas
    • This is also true

      I think both statements are true, most things had already been leaked and the FEW items that weren't, Amazon already added to their Kindle Fire HD (does that mean that Amazon will sue Apple now?).

      Amazon introduced the dual wifi, better speakers, etc. Yes, that is in a tablet and this is in a phone, but both are portable devices and with Skype available for the Kindle Fire HD, it can easily be turned into a cell phone (especially the LTE) model that would have substantially lower monthly costs than any cell provider out there. Of course, doing that would require one of the higher level data plans and we don't know their pricing yet, but my suspicion is that it will be cheaper than plans on other devices.
      cmwade1977
      • Not true at all: competition never did that thin and light full-featured

        ... smartphone, and whatever they did was made of cheapo (creaky) plastic anyway, not from metal.

        Even Motorola Razr is 8.4mm thick, while being bigger (and it is easier to make thinner phone if it is bigger).
        DDERSSS
  • Apple's era of secrecy is over

    That's not why it was underwhelming. There was just no excitement there. Tim Cook spoke like a true salesman giving all kinds of fudged numbers which means nothing to consumers. The products themselves weren't anything to get excited over. Lets just say that Nokia stole the thunder last week and I'm proud of them for it.
    Loverock Davidson-
  • No more magic for Apple

    True talk, honestly I was
    thinking apple will blow my mind but all they show us today is just an upgraded 4s with a bigger screen and faster processor, that's all.SINCERELY DISAPPOINTED.
    nuramohammed
  • Your basic Premise is Flawed

    Just saying anything/something is underwhelming when that info revealed is NOT a 100% surprise to you is idiotic and says 100% nothing. By that measure, getting punched in the face by a total stranger is a good thing when walking down the street? Or that last Google Maps press conference was 100% great because it was a total surprise when all they did was hastily call a press conference when they learned Apple was dropping Goog maps in IO6?

    So, you're saying it's best when ZDNET does no investigative coverage and should only cover Palm Pilots and WIN XP until an official annoucement is made? Do you realize it's 2012 and that people in China can read & write English and have access to the internet? THat because people know there is interest in Apple?

    Besides, how do we know that Apple now doesn't use the pre-ceeding 6 months as a massive worldwide field test? Maybe they "leak" info like the NFC chip to see what the feedback/pushback might be - maybe they saw the interest was mostly tepid so they dropped it - maybe when they planted the story/leak, they wanted to see if the interest was 100%?

    Your basic premise is flawed. Sure, a pleasant surprise is nice but surprise for the sake of surprise is NOT a 100% good thing ... plus, how many idiotic rumors failed to make the grade - it's not real until it gets announced and when you can order it.
    jbelkin
    • Here's a verbal punch in the face

      "It's not real until it gets announced and when you can order it."

      No, it's real when there are photos of the actual device floating around the web. It's not "official" until it's announced. But real? Oh, it's real.

      As for the rest, well, I don't understand a lot of what you wrote here. I was too busy reeling from being punched in the face by a total stranger on the Internet.
      andrew.nusca
  • [Off-topic: *non* grammar check]

    I've been using "whelmed" for several years now. So your usage rang true.
    fjpoblam
    • On 'whelmed'

      verb /(h)welm/ 
      1.) Engulf, submerge, or bury (someone or something)
      - a swimmer whelmed in a raging storm

      2.) Flow or heap up abundantly
      - the brook whelmed up from its source

      noun /(h)welm/ 

      2.) An act or instance of flowing or heaping up abundantly; a surge
      - the whelm of the tide

      Based on the definition, I'm not quite on the mark here. For some odd reason (but hey, that's the English language for you), whelmed and overwhelmed are coterminous.
      andrew.nusca
  • Does the weight spec even matter?

    Since a case is a must for most owners and that easily adds 50%+ to the weight of this extremely fragile phone, or double that if you really want better protection, also why even mention the physical looks since the only part of the phone you can see is the screen.
    TD_2003