Tired Apple meme: Engineers working on fake products

Tired Apple meme: Engineers working on fake products

Summary: Reports resurfaced last week — crazy reports — that Apple makes new engineers work on fake projects until managers "trust them." Who can believe this crazy Apple meme?

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Yes, Apple is sitting on a $137.1 billion cash kitty, a very, very large sum. Perhaps this is why there are some in the world who believe that Cupertino would waste valuable brain power and talent by having new hires work on fake projects. This exercise is supposedly being done as a loyalty test.

According to an Ars Technica post, the origins of this meme came from a talk that author Adam Lashinsky made about Apple's extreme secrecy even with new hires and foggy posted job descriptions.

After his talk, an unnamed audience member said that a friend had worked on "fake products" at Apple for nine months before being put on something real. The point was related to Lashinsky's reporting on Apple's notorious secrecy and was meant to highlight the extremes to which Apple goes to protect its trade secrets. The moment was captured on video, and the idea that Apple puts employees on fake projects took off within the Apple blogosphere and became widely accepted as fact.

What silliness.

Of course, Apple, like every other technology company, works on many products at once, many of which will never see the light of day. And I'm not talking about a solo programmer here and there, working on a so-called "napkin product," an idea scrawled on the back of NAPKIN during a late-night meeting at a Silicon Valley coffee shop or sushi bar. No, entire teams can work for years on stuff that never become products.

Some of these projects are variations on a theme to find the best expression of a design, while others are explorations into a workflow or implementation. I have written about such projects over the years. In the late 1980s, I recall speaking to programmers and hardware types working on an early Mac tablet computer that Apple had cooking on the back workbench. It was very well along with hardware designs and a list of interesting applications. The plug on the project, tablet version of the Mac OS and apps were pulled following a reorganization. Same difference with variant Newtons in the 1990s that came with built-in cameras and strange add-ons described by product engineers.

Cult of Mac a few years ago offered a look at several Newton prototypes. One looks like a current POS credit card scanner device often seen in grocery stores. Different colors and shapes.

Apple in the 1990s had an entire division working on "Advanced Technology" projects. This division was where QuickTime came from. AppleScript too. OpenDoc. And many artificial intelligence and data detection APIs used in various Apple products over the years. Yet another reorganization killed the group

In fact, so many of these nonexistent products go unproduced that they can lead to depression in hardware and software engineers. There are people who have never had a project ship. Nowadays, thanks to KickStarter, anyone can have a chance to get something designed and produced.


This is the first of a series on lame, tired and crazy Apple memes. Any suggestions to the list? Let me know!

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Operating Systems, Tablets

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29 comments
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  • hate to break your bubble

    But this is standard practice at any place where innovation happens.

    Untrusted staff is given work that can be abandoned if need be.
    danbi
    • haha no

      Sorry but no. Untrusted staff are fired.
      larissaj
      • Exactly.

        If you are not trusted you are not hired or your position is simply eliminated.
        Bruizer
        • not always possible

          You can't know if you can trust a person, or even if you imagined you could, people change their desires.

          In a large company like Apple, there is enough work for even the most I trusted people, as long as they don't do stupid things.

          As they say, "keep your friends close and your enemies even closer"

          There is much to be learnt from spies in your business. :)
          danbi
          • Unnecessary capitalisation

            I think it should be itrusted not I trusted :)
            Little Old Man
        • Fungible "Human Resources"

          But there are different degrees of "trusted". If they didn't trust you somewhat, they wouldn't hire you in the first place. But that doesn't mean they're going to hand you any more information than you need to do your job right away, or the details of the guru's grand strategic vision for the next decade any time soon. (That latter, they're not likely to ever give you, unless you got hired straight into upper management, in which case it's likely to be what you need to know to do your job, and they're paying you enough to buy your loyalty, anyway.) But since we're talking about fungible, entry/utility grade engineers and programmers, here, high levels of trust will come slowly, if at all.
          rocket ride
  • 95% of products fail

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/jun/15/happiness-is-being-a-loser-burkeman

    So you have a 19 out of 20 chance of working on one, whichever company you work for.
    jorwell
    • Not necessarily the same thing

      There's a difference between "failed in the marketplace" and "never brought to market". Sort of like the difference between a dead loved-one and a missing one.
      rocket ride
  • "Who can believe this crazy Apple meme?"

    A better question: who cares?

    Seriously - you have to be kind of obsessed about a company to care about this level of detail.
    TheWerewolf
  • Does say loyalty test to me

    "This exercise is supposedly being done as a loyalty test."

    Because nothing makes an engineer or developer loyal like having them waste their time on a product a company not only had never had any intention of bringing to market BUT a product that never actually existed.

    This doesn't say we're making a laughing stock of you at all. Even though I'm not very big on Apple, I just don't see them doing this.
    larissaj
  • Ever heard of R & D?

    Company's, I'd guess nearly all company's have an research and development section where they often work on prototype's which some times don't go anywhere, so perhaps that's what they think are fake projects.
    I used to work at Ford Motor Co. Australia and they built early prototypes and then junked them, if they can do it with cars they can certainly do it with iJunk. ;-)
    martin_js
    • Re: Ever heard of R & D?

      Interestingly, Apple's spending on R&D is below average.
      ldo17
      • Another tired meme

        Actually Apples spends more on R&D than most tech companies. You'd think you'd check your facts before posting!
        For instance in last Q2012, Apple increased R&D by almost 50%. Just because Larry Dignan says it's so in 2011, doesn't make it so. You might want to get the latest news before assuming yo know what you're talking about.
        And FTR, R&D as a percentage of sales is a silly metric, anyway. It penalizes companies with successful products, and artificially bolsters ones with failures.
        .DeusExMachina.
        • Re: Actually Apples spends more on R&D than most tech companies.

          Found this chart

          http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2012/10/focus-7

          Where is Apple on that list? Nowhere to be found.
          ldo17
          • And?

            Do you read? I already answered that. Again, R&D as a percentage if sales rather than an absolute figure is meaningless. Using that number penalizes companies with successful products and bolsters companies with failed products.
            Two companies, WidgetWorks and GadgetGuys make a similar device. WidgetWorks spends 20M on R&D and GadgetGuys spent $50. WidgetWork's device is a huge market success, and sells hundreds of millions of units, garnering the company 20B in profits. GadgetGuys' device is a flop, and sells on device, to the developer's mother.
            Using R&D as percentage of sales makes it look like GG takes R&D far more seriously than WW, although clearly that is not the case.
            In addition as sales FOLLOW R&D, one can not predict in advance what those sales will be, so again, the comparison is bogus.

            Did that really need to be laid out?
            .DeusExMachina.
    • Prototyping

      Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet, and build the prototype(s), just to know if the project is worth continuing. Even computer simulations aren't necessarily definitive, especially if there is any aesthetic factor associated with the product.
      rocket ride
  • Was The Ipad Mini A Fake Product?

    Even marketing didn't know it was fake, and so it got accidentally released.

    How else to explain why Apple would have put out something so lame?
    ldo17
    • Yeah...

      ...so lame the iPad mini is outselling all Android and Windows tablets combined.
      ewelch
      • Re: the iPad mini is outselling all Android

        That would seem to be a bit difficult, considering Android already has over half the tablet market.
        ldo17
        • In what world???

          It hasn't even reach 25%
          wackoae