Charles Arthur: Why Apple’s secretive approach is so effective

“That Apple (Inc, no longer Computer) likes to keep the details or even existence of upcoming product releases close to its chest is a given within the technology industry,” Charles Arthur writes for The Guardian. “Yes, there were loads of people who were sure last year that Apple would launch a mobile phone product; but barely any outside the company itself who knew what it would look like. (Even the head of AT&T, its network partner, only got to see it late in the development process.)”

“To most journalists, struggling to make sense of quite where a new product such as the MacBook Air fits into the wider matrix of Stuff You Can Already Buy can be frustrating, because the abruptness with which such things appear leaves little time for sensible reflection,” Arthur writes.

MacDailyNews Take: Ain’t that the truth?!

“By contrast, companies like Microsoft and Dell like to tell everyone well ahead of time what they’re going to do. I can’t recall the last time a Bill Gates speech led anyone to hold a middle, let alone front, page,” Arthur writes.

“Now it turns out that there may be very deep reasons why Apple’s secretive approach entices us so, and Microsoft’s doesn’t. It’s this: pre-release hype makes people much more careful about what they buy. If you tell them that something is coming at some point in the future, they will evaluate everything that’s out there very carefully. But if you just drop something into their laps, all they’ll think about is the brand,” Arthur writes. “And if they like that, ker-ching!”

Full article here.

The insinuation that Apple product buyers buy thing just because of the logo is incorrect for the most part (a very small minority might). Most Apple product buyers have used the alternatives (think Windows at school/work) or some also-ran MP3 player and experienced how poorly they compete with Apple’s markedly superior offerings. Apple is a unique company. Apple’s customers know this and they trust the brand to offer innovation, attention to detail, and quality. Apple’s secrecy, if anything, is a free publicity generator.


  1. Quite the opposite is true. When Apple introduces a new product, we read about feature list comparisons and verdicts by people who have not had a chance to study or use the product. It is only after some time that a new Apple product gets to establish itself against the competition. The advantage Apple products have are usability and design. It would be stupid to pre-announce them. And it will take some time after the product’s availability for people to realize that.

  2. I’ve always thought Apple went the secrecy route because of their bad experience with letting Bill Gates and his minions have the run of the place way back in the early 80’s, pre-Mac days. That breach of trust almost ended with the death of Apple in the 90’s.

    When Steve came back, he really clamped on corporate secrecy with his line (and I paraphrase), “Isn’t it funny how some ships leak from the top?”

    At this point, Apple has perfected product announcement secrecy to a fine art, even down to “strategic” leaks to fuel the rumor sites. We must admit, it’s working a lot better than what Apple had going in the 90’s before Jobs came back.

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  3. While the comments about Apple’s reasons for secrecy – such as knock offs – are on the mark, the article actually didn’t talk about Apple’s reasons for secrecy</b>. Rather, the article talked about why Apple’s secrecy entices consumers.

    <i>”Now it turns out that there may be very deep reasons why <u>Apple’s secretive approach entices us so</u>, and Microsoft’s doesn’t.”

  4. I think MDN is being a bit simplistic in their take on this one. While I agree that only a small proportion of people will buy anything with a favourite logo on it, research has shown that corporate branding can weight in between 20% and 35% of the decision making process. When you consider that most people make a purchase decision on a total score of maybe 70% up of the possible score for a product (how often do you really hear that someone is happy with this car or that computer or that house to the extent that they are 100% satisfied on day one of the purchase?) then you can see that one of the reasons for Apple’s success is that the brand identity and the confidence that it gives makes a major contribution to the actual purchase decision. Many people will look at a new Apple product and will not worry about issues like quality, or support, like they would with other brands. Instead they will consider the actual features, their budget, and how it fits into what they want to do. They already know it will be good quality, well supported, easy to use so those evaluation decisions play a very small part in the actual decision being pre-decided as it were.

    It is good to see a journo start to actually get this aspect of the Apple experience.

  5. First – using conclusions from a study using Ketchup and Beer (low priced consumed items) and extrapolating them to different types of products (high priced (compared to beer and ketchup) non consumed items) is really stretching things. Think about it, I’m strolling down the aisle and see a bottle of coca-cola ketchup – I may throw it in my cart because it is only $2, I have nothing to lose. However, it is a MUCH different scenario if I’m strolling through Best Buy and see a new $2000 laptop. Apples and Oranges comparison. It is very easy to try a new beer when it is just a few dollars. If you don’t like that laptop, oops, time to spend another few thousand dollars.

    Second – it is normal and beneficial to use our accumulated knowledge to analyze new things. It’s not that people become Zombies and robotically purchase products from certain brands (apple) but rather learning over time who deserves our business and who does not.

    Third – I don’t put much weight behind product announcements. I may take the headline away but I won’t invest time on things that don’t exist. Ohhhh….Windows Mobile 7 is going to be great. Yeah, yeah, yeah, let’s wait until it is real and then we’ll see.

    A good friend of mine from New Orleans had a saying, “Don’t Sing It, Bring It.” Words to live by. Shut up and deliver.

  6. And so the long held secrecy has led Apple to its current position.

    5% market share.

    That’s REAL effective.

    In the pro world, a road map from Apple would be a dream come true. You want to know how many people irretrievably dumped Aperture in favor of LightRoom?


    Apple’s ‘pro’ app now enjoys a thrilling 5% share in the market it is supposed to thrive in. It happened because the app was in need of a big fix but every online forum was filled with professionals -Apple fans- wondering if Apple was going to drop it altogether.
    Apple, amazingly, stayed TOTALLY SILENT and watched 90% of their customers dribble away.

  7. Can you really see any IT dept. head sending his guys to WWDC to see what the latest shiny toys will look like.

    Like anyone who does it for a living, he needs to know ahead so he can budget.
    So hold the iPod MacBook iPhone cards close to your chest, fine. But please please please please, I do this for a living. Intel gives me an idea of what’s coming, heck Micros**t is more open! Throw us a bone or you’ll never ever get into double digits.

    You’re wrong Charles, Apple’s secretive approach is NOT effective.

    It may, as you noticed effect change in Apple fans, but these are only several dozen fish in the Pacific. And Steve goes out there twice a year with his single hook and line.

    Talk about doing it the hard way.

  8. Not long after I started working at Apple, a director in the Pro Markets group explained to me just what the secrecy is worth in dollar terms.

    Apple got the front cover of Time magazine with the iMac G4. You can’t buy that as an ad placement, but if you could, it’s probably worth several tens of millions of dollars. Since Apple doesn’t leak like they used to under Sculley and Spindler, an Apple product intro is *news*.


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