For a company that owns less than ten percent of the computer market and isn't even one of the top five revenue generators in the technology sector, Apple still attracts more attention from the media and the tech industry than any of its larger competitors. And, three stories in May have shown that Apple's puissance over the press is greater than ever.
1.) The mysterious ocean containers
On May 23, Fortune published a report about a major spike in ocean containers labeled "electric computers" for Apple. The source was ImportGenius, which tracks U.S. Customs records looking for information on the activities of businesses. They recorded the arrival of 188 of these containers since mid-March from two of Apple's primary Asian suppliers.
ImportGenius noted that Apple's "electric computers" label is a new one and that the arrival of these new containers did not correspond with a drop in other types of containers such as the ones labeled "desktop computers." Thus, the natural conclusion is that this is for a new product. The most likely candidate is a new 3G version of the iPhone, which is expected to be announced on June 9 when CEO Steve Jobs gives the opening keynote for Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC08).
Alternatively, some have speculated that Apple could soon release a tablet computer.
2.) Closure of the 24-hour Apple Store
On May 29, Apple closed down its New York City Apple Store on Fifth Avenue, which is famous for being open 24/7/365. MacRumor.com reported Apple Store employees were telling customers who approached the store that it was closed because a commercial was being shot, and according to the site's sources the commercial was for the 3G iPhone.
MacRumor.com also noted that the store had only closed on two previous occasions: the original iPhone launch and the Mac OS X Leopard launch.
3.) The AT&T vacation memo
On May 6, AT&T sent an internal e-mail to the sales employees of its stores to inform them that no one could take vacation between June 15 to July 15 because the company had "an exciting new promotion/product launch" during that time, as first revealed by The Boy Genius Report and later picked up by lots of other news outlets.
Since AT&T is the exclusive carrier for the iPhone and the company instituted a similar vacation black-out during last year's iPhone launch, the obvious speculation is that June 15 will be when Apple and AT&T officially release iPhone 2.0 into retail stores.
Why does Apple have us in a trance?
Whatever new product Apple announces on June 9, this type of speculation and news coverage is unique to Apple. Can you imagine the press and the blogosphere following Customs data to try to find information about Microsoft's next version of the Zune or Hewlett-Packard's newest Tablet PC?
So why does Apple have such a strong hold over the press and the tech industry? Here are four reasons:
- Apple is notoriously tight-lipped and dramatic about its new products. It likes to build the suspense and surprise everyone in order to build excitement and product demand.
- By contrast, other companies such as Microsoft tend to be more transparent and also tend to leak out lots of details and teases for the media.
- Apple is on a roll, having delivered a string of terrific products from the iPod to the MacBook to the iPhone, and so they have a captive audience wondering "what's next?"
- Steve Jobs is very charismatic and simply knows how to put on a good show.
Despite that fact that the members of the press are conscious of this, we continue to fuel Apple's fire by reporting on Customs containers and vacation schedules. After all, we know that users will click on stories about Apple. In spite of its small market share, Apple draws user interest even from those who don't have an iPhone or a Mac.
I'm following this story because the iPhone 2.0 includes a new move to enable Microsoft Exchange support and potentially a lot more business applications, which will make it a much stronger option for businesses and IT. But, if I'm honest with myself, I will admit that even if that weren't the case, I'd probably be covering the iPhone 2.0 story out of sheer curiosity to see what's next. In that way, I'm just as guilty as anyone in helping fuel the Apple hype machine, even though I severely dislike the thought of that.
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.