A Brief History of Past Apple Leaks, and What Apple Did About Them

By  |  Monday, April 19, 2010 at 11:34 pm

Is Gizmodo’s “big reveal” of the next-generation iPhone–weeks or months before Apple planned to let Steve Jobs do the job–unprecedented?  Yeah, pretty much. Products from other companies show up prematurely all the time (here’s a look at HP’s slate PC). But I can’t remember a site anyone pays attention to getting extended, unapproved hands-on time with an unreleased Apple product–let alone anything as significant as a new iPhone.

(Gizmodo, incidentally, has now explained how it got the phone and identified the poor Apple employee who left it behind at a Silicon Valley bar. It also says that Apple has asked for the phone back, and that it will comply.)

Apple may be better at keeping surprises surprising than any other tech company, but its veil of secrecy has never been 100% effective. Some of the company’s biggest product launches have been preceded by leaks of photos and facts–and when Apple had quashed them, it’s only tended to confirm that the sites did indeed have scoops.

Herewith, four examples:

2000: An Apple employee who goes by the online handle Worker Bee starts posting information on (and, sometimes, images of) upcoming products on GeoCities and Apple fan sites. His leaks include accurate information on new-if-no-earthshaking products: upgraded PowerMacs and iBooks, and the Apple Pro Mouse.

Apple’s response: It files a lawsuit even before it knows who the guy is, and has to pretty much disclose that Worker Bee’s iBook scuttlebutt is accurate–even though the iBook hadn’t yet been released. The leaker is eventually revealed to be a former Apple temp named Juan Gutierrez. The dispute ends in an out-of-court settlement that shuts Gutierrez up.

Also in 2000: In July, MacInTouch and other sites publish photos and details of a cube-shaped Mac. Apple tells them to take them down–and then releases a cube-shaped Mac.

2004: In December, an indispensable Apple rumor site, Think Secret, spoils a Steve Jobs keynote’s surprises in a spectacular fashion which remained unmatched until Gizmodo’s story hit the Web: It says that January’s Macworld Expo SF 2005 will feature a $499 Mac with no keyboard or mouse, as well as a suite called iWork which will feature a new word processor called Pages. The site’s stories–here’s one, and here’s another–are full of little details that turn out to be on the money.

Apple’s response: A week before Macworld Expo, it sues Think Secret’s pseudonymous proprietor Nick DePlume, once again before it knows who he is. (His real name turns out to be Nick Ciarelli.)  A little under three years later, a settlement is reached–one that involves Ciarelli agreeing to shut down Think Secret. I still miss it.

2007: In late August, 9to5Mac, CrunchGear, and Gizmodo (who?) post spy shots of an alleged new iPod Nano design whose squarish proportions earn it the nickname “Fat Nano,” even though the story is that it’ll be called something other than a Nano.

Apple’s reponse: Its legal team immediately sends out cease-and-desist letters. The sites pull the shots (CrunchGear and Gizmodo replace them with artist’s renderings). On September 5th, Apple holds a press event and introduces…the gizmo in the spy shots. It’s still called the iPod Nano, though.

The iPhone 4G story is different not only because Gizmodo had possession of an unreleased Apple product, but also because the Apple-employee-takes-secret-phone-to-bar backstory is so damn fascinating. And this story isn’t over yet. For one thing, we don’t know whether Apple is going to get litigious, or whether it’ll conclude it’s better to pretty much pretend this never happened. For another, it remains unclear just how much there is to know about the next iPhone that Giz didn’t glean from its time with one.

Any guesses as to whether there are more shoes yet to drop?



12 Comments For This Post

  1. AJ Says:

    Good post, Harry. I’m pretty sure Apple is going to sue Gawker Media. I wonder if the phone “seller” will be outed? Is the phone seller in as much trouble as Gawker? What do you think?

  2. Big Dan Says:

    I don’t believe the bar story for a second. I have a hard time believing this isn’t an intentionally leak in the first place.

    If the leak wasn’t intentional why does Gizmodo still have the pictures and video up? No doubt Apple’s lawyers would have fired off a C&D by now. Gawker would be just plain stupid not to comply. Gawker is a fairly big outfit but they cannot compete with Apple’s legal team.

    Even if Gawker could out lawyer Apple they have no defense. They purposely bought a secret product.

  3. Zatz Says:

    Yeah, I’m extremely fascinated by this as well. Gawker took a big risk. It remains to be seen how it all plays out. To paraphrase the Breakfast Club, “Mess with the bull, you’ll get the horns.” Regardless, the phone looks hot!

  4. Josh Says:

    I don’t see any basis for a lawsuit. Purchasing personal property is not a crime. When Gawker bought the device, they had no idea if it was legit or just some Chinese knockoff. Surely they were hoping it was legit, which shows intent, but I don’t think that would stick.

  5. jb Says:

    According to California law, if you find lost property and don’t make a good faith effort to find the owner and return it, the property is stolen. They guy who found the phone identified the owner… and then sold it. So even if you believe Gawker’s account, their own explanation is that they knowingly purchased stolen property.

    Apple may or may not sue. But I think it’s likely that they’ll press charges.

  6. davezatz Says:

    At the very least their days of liveblogging Apple events could be over.

  7. tony touch Says:

    Apple must sue. NOW! for at least 1 BILLION dollars. Gawker should be put out of business. Their editors should be blacklisted. (As a side note: Gawker Media had fleshbot.com up for years without a disclaimer flash page. This allows persons to view hard core porn without a warning – thus proving that they are an establishment without moral fortitude.)
    1. Gawker Media knew once it opened the phone, tested it, photographed it and documented it that they had proprietary trade secrets and materials – (UI, design, choice of chips, layout etc.). They chose, against their better judgement to publish the material for their own profit.
    In this day and age anyone with access in China can easily make a knockoff. I believe that their are factories in China right now using Gawkers story to make cases, and knockoffs on the basis of the story alone. These knockoff artisans do not consider the whole product or put the millions of dollars in time, and expertise to create what would constitute an iphone – they simply create an imitation to make a profit.
    The net effect of this leak is tremendous. Apple has lost a tremendous amount of money with this leak. Google right now has probably assembled a NEXUS team to create a prototype NEXUS 2 phone with a September launch date.
    I am prepared to sell my 3GS iphone TODAY in anticipation of the 4G one. I am ready to re-up my contract with ATT. I am going to wait for the second version of the iPad – simply because the iphone’s elements (front facing camera etc. should be on the next ipad. I am going to buy Apple stock. – Lots of it. NOW! I want to develop iPhone ChatRoulette as the next disrupter iphone application (as well as a slew of apps that can use a front facing iPhone camera).
    If I were Steve Jobs, my first decision would be to call a press conference/product reveal next Tuesday and have a low key introduction of the iPhone 4 (based solely on the leak) with availability pushed back to July. This would calm the market, continue the high coming off of the record earning and prevent the corporate espionage that will inevitably occur – by simply making public what every manufacturer will now be seeking to copy. My second decision would be to accelerate all related patent applications. My third decision would be to use the cash horde that I have at Apple to purchase all available Flash memory and related components to starve my competitors from gaining the components needed for a knockoff. My forth decision would be to assemble a top flight legal team in Taiwan and China and pre-empitively sue all electronics manufacturers to prevent knockoff production. This leak should have an adverse effect on the stock price, however stock price fluctuations should be mitigated by the LUST and demand generated from this leak.
    Lastly, the engineer who lost the phone and his boss should be terminated or, reassigned and Apple must change its policy for in the field testing of its devices – IMMEDIATELY.
    At the end of the day its just a phone, but we are still in a technological war and this product represents paid mindshare of the best engineers in the world. Gawker media’s prostitution of Apple’s upcoming iPhone, severly dilutes this mindshare and definitely shows the best and worst aspects of America’s corporate morals.

  8. AdamC Says:

    This phone is worth more than $5k to Apple’s competitors, wonder why it was sold to dizmodo for peanuts?

  9. kendylau Says:

    I got to know that Iphone 4G new version leaked in Viet Nam:) It is just PR to get attention:))

  10. DC35 Multi Floor Says:

    I don’t disagree with you..

  11. get a cosigner Says:

    Apple is really good on handling these type of problems. They update their software from time to time.

  12. Mart Says:

    Really nice post! Its really clear and understandable to read. I agree with some of the comments here. Apple really got what it takes to play safe. Best Mid-Range Digital SLR Cameras

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