Apple News Media

Steve Jobs’ Return is Vaporware

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Today’s Wall Street Journal story about Steve Jobs’ return is classic media manipulation. The story’s timing—days before Apple convenes its Worldwide Developer Conference—and seemingly single source, “a person familiar with the matter,” stinks of corporate leak.

I challenge WSJ reporters Yukari Iwatani Kane and Joann Lublin to dispute my assertion that their main source was from inside Apple and mostly likely someone in corporate communications. Yukari and Joann can’t do so, for they must protect that source and future Apple leaks.

Selective leaks are common in corporate America. They just don’t get written about much. Seeing as how it’s Dress Down Friday, I’m going to dress down Apple and the Journal. Disclosure: I am a digital WSJ journal subscriber since 1996; yes, I pay for the stuff. 🙂

The allegedly leaked Journal story solves many, many problems for Apple ahead of WWDC and sets up introduction of the next iPhone(s). Quickly:

  • The return of Apple’s CEO is news everywhere today. The publicity builds up excitement for new iPhone(s) announcement, early as June 8.
  • Steve’s WWDC keynote absence would otherwise have detracted from Apple’s Monday announcements. Now his imminent return will punctuate every blog and news story.
  • Suspicion that Steve might make a WWDC keynote appearance will drive up press attendance and coverage; no offense to Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller.
  • News of Steve’s return is good for Apple shares, which remain vulnerable despite recent gains and imminent announcement of new iPhone(s).

It’s no coincidence the allegedly leaked story ran in the Wall Street Journal. WSJ reporters were sure to write just the kind of story Apple needed, with just a little prompting. Please don’t misunderstand: I don’t disparage but praise the reporters. It’s because they were sure to fill in the blanks that the leaker could provide the seeds of information. The two reporters wrote a thorough story, which, despite their efforts at impartiality, still works for Apple—if for no other reasons than topic (Steve Jobs) and timing (three days before WWDC). The story even offers an Apple share safety net, of sorts:

The past five months without Mr. Jobs have given investors confidence that Apple can run smoothly without him. Apple’s shares have risen 68 percent since Mr. Jobs announced his leave Jan. 14, compared with a 24 percent increase in the Nasdaq Composite Index over that period.

Apple shares closed at $143.74 yesterday and opened at $145.50 this morning. The Journal story appears in today’s paper but posted online late yesterday. So Apple shares got some after-market bang.

But the Journal story is missing something really, really, really important: Substantive information when Steve Jobs might return as CEO. Yukari and Joann put in the right qualifications about Steve’s status:

It isn’t clear whether Mr. Jobs would return to his full set of duties immediately. But whatever role Mr. Jobs officially takes up, many Apple watchers think Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook will continue to run the day-to-day operations as he had been doing even before Mr. Jobs went on leave.

The qualification appears late in the story, somewhat contradicting headline: “Jobs Ready to Return to Apple Helm.” Of course, the zillions of blogs and stories posting today are largely about his imminent return.

When would that be? Right now, the news is nothing more than vaporware. Unless Steve Jobs reports for duty as CEO on Monday and walks out onto the WWDC stage, his return is vaporware.

Classically, for software, vaporware announcements seek to achieve some kind of company goal. The product might never ship, but the news generates buzz and, when effective, uncertainty and doubt about competitors’ stuff.

I’m not suggesting that Steve Jobs won’t return as CEO. But I am asserting that today’s news about his imminent return is really vaporware. Apple gains huge PR bang, and, of course, the WSJ gets loads of inbound links and story references.

Please forgive my looking for more PR conspiracies. Today’s news will effectively obscure and taint much of the Palm Pre coverage. Major Pre reviews posted yesterday, and the smartphone goes on sale tomorrow. The Pre is reportedly the biggest iPhone competitor released to date. The Steve Jobs returning story will be inserted in many Pre launch blogs and stories because of iPhone, which mention is all the more likely in most stories now. Isn’t that what vaporware is for?

9 Comments

  1. Steve says on June 5, 2009

    You’re more than likely 100% right but this should come as no surprise.
    Correct me but don’t we regularly see the press applaud and cheer at Apple PR events.

    WSJ also has Mossberg who’s like the biggest white elephant in the tech media when it comes to his “reviews” of Apple products or their competitors. Heck, his Pre review had a chalk full teasers about the upcoming iPhone that even Apple PR couldn’t even dream of churning up.

  2. whatever says on June 5, 2009

    As always thank you for pointing out the story behind the story.

    Personally while i think he will return to work at Apple, i don’t think it would make sense for Jobs to assume the position as CEO again, as he’ll eventually have to step down once again, causing another round of ruckus and FUD around that event.

  3. Those that have treated Steve Jobs medical leave as an absence have been mistaken. His influence has most likely been consistent and at a minimum, subordinates would be hesitant to take any action they were not certain would be consistent with Steve’s own had he been there day to day all the while.

    Similarly, financial analysts and planners have based their assessments on identical logic.

    For better, or worse, Jobs’ influence has remained significant. As to that influence, Jobs, et al, have been lucky. He re-entered the game during a period of extreme growth and at a time when largely young people began to use high-speed Internet to steal copy protected media.

    On one hand the expanding personal computer space helped Apple in general and a few years later, broadband and music downloads in general, helped the iPod.

    I don’t want to take anything away from Apple, but like all things in this industry, it is impossible to argue that during this period, it has grown substantively. I think, in general, Apple’s success has a lot more to do with circumstances and the hard work of all of its people than it does one CEO. I also think that Steve Jobs might actually do his company more service by staying away and continuing to exert his influence from a distance. I’d like to see what they can come up with and on their own.

  4. whatever says on June 7, 2009

    It would have to be a Microsoft oven if snowflakes are coming out when they’re baking… 🙂

    On a more serious note – would you be able to bring up one or more of the many things Apple have done so wrong technology wise? I struggle with Intel and Bootcamp as examples as one of them is another company and the other is technology from same company (Intel’s EFI BIOS Emulation)…

    Now here’s the part where we need to be honest with each other – do you actually have an in-depth understanding of Apple technology? It’s ok if you don’t and i don’t mean to offend you by asking…

  5. whatever says on June 8, 2009

    Just to help out I’ll start things off with where i think Apple is publicly falling behind (publicly as in what’s publicly known about Apple’s technology portfolio) –

    Computer Interface Technology, as in technology that helps a computer interface with humans rather than the other way round. Examples:

    .) Voice recognition – with Microsoft’s internal work and their TellMe aquisition they have a big lead in Voice recognition technology.

    .) Human gesture interpretation – provided Microsoft’s project Natal works as advertised that is.

    As always with these two companies it’s hard to tell fact from perception as Apple is focused on manipulating consumers through secrecy and drama, and Microsoft is focused on manipulating competitors and industry sectors through early announcements and non-product tech demos.

  6. @whatever,

    To begin with:

    Its architecture assumes all data is a serial stream of ASCII characters being sent over one of three data channels.

    A non-existent security architecture that reflects a coarse and limited levels of permission and a group structure that reflects the ideas of a few users on teletypes. No, I’m not kidding.

    Zero atomicity. For example, does a null return code signify success or failure – there is no way to know.

    There are of course, many more and one might begin again by pointing out that the *nix themselves were never intended to exist outside of the classroom – they being a deprecated child to their parent Multices (of which the last went offline years ago).

    Even the allegedly modern technologies layered in on top of the class project that OS X seems to be, have been horribly botched. ASLR is so poorly implemented that one can drive through the OS pretty much at will.

    Unless Snow Leopard represents a complete redesign and rewrite, I do not know how Apple’s OS will survive the next decade… and we have not even touched on the affects of the underlying structure on their API’s.

  7. whatever says on June 8, 2009

    I’ll address the actual statements only, because they’re a bit baffling to be honest.

    "Its architecture assumes all data is a serial stream of ASCII characters being sent over one of three data channels."
    – right, i’m a programmer who is somewhat familiar with c, objc and c# and i have no idea what that means. What are these mythical data channels you speak of? I’m not saying you’re wrong, i’m just asking if you could explain.
    At the core all architectures look at data as a stream of binary. ASCII is an 8bit character interpretation / encoding (into binary that is) convention. What’s particularly ironic about this statement is that OSX’ APIs support ASCII as well as UTF-8 and UTF-16 from the ground up which makes for an interesting comparison with Windows… 🙂

    "A non-existent security architecture that reflects a coarse and limited levels of permission and a group structure that reflects the ideas of a few users on teletypes. No, I’m not kidding."
    – the classic unix security model was indeed as limited as you describe – one owner, one group, 16 group membership max and so on.
    I seem to remember though that Windows 3 had no security at all and that’s ~20 years AFTER the above basic UNIX security – does that reflect in any way on today’s Windows? Shall i pretend that NT never happened and we’ll kick this discussion 80s styley?

    "Zero atomicity. For example, does a null return code signify success or failure – there is no way to know."
    – I’m sorry, but how does the above relate to OSX (or any OS for that matter) please?

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