Tired Apple meme: Engineers working on fake products

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?
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor

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!

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