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There used to be a time when Apple was the kid to beat when it came to being the best at keeping a lid on leaks. From in-house security, to making sure nothing slipped-out during manufacturing, it did a pretty great job at keeping us guessing. Sure, there was the occasional lapse – probably none more notable than the iPhone 4 that an Apple engineer accidentally left behind in a California bar – but that was the exception that proved the rule.
That iPhone 4 incident occurred back in 2010. Since then, we’ve experienced a sea change when it comes to both the quantity and the quality of Apple-based leaks. Look no further back than yesterday morning, when we got to check out a whole gallery of leaked shots of what sure seems to be the anticipated iPhone 5C. Where in years past we’d be lucky to get a quick, blurry shot from some production line worker, probably fearing for his job the whole time, now we’re looking at dozens upon dozens of well-lit, high-res, in-focus pics – and that’s all from just one leak.
What the heck happened to Apple to transform it from some windowless fortress into a glass house?
The answer’s probably not going to be simple, with any one, defining force behind the change, but there sure are a lot of possibilities we can consider.
What We’ve Seen
Before we delve into the “how” and “why” of it all, let’s take a quick look at just what we’ve seen in recent months. We’re likely getting two new iPhones, presumably arriving as the iPhone 5S and the 5C. The 5S has shown us its display panel, any number of internal components, turned up on the assembly line itself, and revealed its external shell.
The iPhone 5C has put on a similarly impressive showing; before those green pics we saw the phone in red, and earlier still we got to look at even more color options for this phone. While the iPad mini 2 and the iPad 5 haven’t seen quite so much coverage as the phones, they haven’t been without their own share of leaks, including the occasional front panel and some great comparison shots.
It’s hard to take a then-and-now look at Apple over this time period without starting with the obvious: we’ve lost Steve Jobs. When the visionary Apple co-founder died all too young in October, 2011, immediately following the launch of the iPhone 4S, we breathlessly waited to see what effect his absence would have on the future of Apple’s products.
Some of what’s arrived since – devices like the iPad mini – seem like the sort of products that Apple might never had pursued with Jobs still at the wheel. We’re also seeing major changes on the software side, like the Jonathan-Ive-helmed effort to develop a new look for iOS 7.
It’s not crazy to think that Apple’s obsession with product security might have similarly found itself reconsidered in the time following Jobs’s death. After all, while secrecy can adds to a phone’s mystique, helping generate buzz before launch, it can be time-consuming and expensive to do right. At some point, maybe Apple asked itself if these efforts were really worth it in the end, and ultimately elected to just ease off a little.
Building A Buzz
Maybe if goes even further than that, though. While I can’t imagine that Apple would be intentionally leaking anything, it’s obvious aware of what we’re all talking about, and has seen the same leaks we have. Could it be – in some cases, at least – electing not to crack down on this activity in the hopes that it keeps the public interested in and talking about upcoming hardware?
After all, while Apple still has a huge share of the smartphone user base under its thumb, Android’s been making serious inroads in recent years, and as manufacturers step up build quality and introduce more and more compelling software, Apple’s going to be feeling a lot of pressure to adapt.
The problem for Apple is directly tied to its limited product lineup; when you’re releasing one phone a year, it can be damn hard to keep people excited about what you’re doing nine or ten months post-launch. By then, the honeymoon period is a distant memory, and fans will already be talking about future devices.
The question then is whether to allow these rumors to remain esoteric and difficult for anyone but dedicated fans to follow, or if it might be in the company’s best interest to see rumors hit the mainstream, with exactly the sort of imagery that we’ve been witnessing leak out. Giving an Apple fan a picture of a new iPhone to look at – even when the user knows it’s totally unofficial and may very well be fake – is going to leave a much more lasting impression in the mind than some vague talk of component specs.
Sure, none of this is going to specifically help sales of the old model this late into its life, but stirring up interest in a new phone sure can contribute to keeping the fan base from straying while they wait for new gear.
Source Of The Leaks
It’s also worth considering that a changing climate in China, where we see so many of these leaks originate, could be behind this shift. Perhaps improving conditions have empowered workers to be bolder in their actions. Maybe efforts to secure new sources of components have exposed the Apple supply chain to increased observation. As I said early on, there’s likely a lot contributing to this all, with no singular reason behind it.
The way things have been going, don’t look for this to change anytime soon; you had better believe we’ll be seeing a whole new flood of iPhone 6 leaks as we get into the early months of 2014, as well as new iPads and all that jazz. All these leaks may take away from some of the mystery of Apple launches – no more tearing the wrapping paper off a present to reveal the surprise within – but they sure have served to help keep Apple on our minds all year round.