Apple's Secrecy Comes Back to Bite

A 4,000 word profile of Steve Jobs details draconian confidentiality agreements as the backlash grows

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One by one, Apple's strengths--closed development, extreme quality control, and secrecy--have become its weaknesses.

As we reported last week, the company has been suffering a backlash following a broadside by Weblogs Inc. and Mahalo founder Jason Calicanis. Today, the critics' dander has been raised again by reports that the wizards at One Infinite Loop tried to squelch a profile of Steve Jobs in the UK's Sunday Times. The irony of this hamfisted suppression is that it confirms the article's main point:

Along with computers, iPhones and iPods, secrecy is one of Apple's signature products.

The author, Bryan Appleyard, vividly depicts some of Apple's stranger practices, which include monitoring employees at their desks by video camera, spreading false information to prevent and trace leaks in the company cafeteria, and turning on red overhead lights to alert employees that a secret gadget is in the area. But some die-hard Mac fans argue that these details are hardly new, and that the piece is written in bad faith.

Here is a sampling of tech pundits' reactions to the piece:

  • Proof That Apple Needs to Change, says David Coursey at PC World. "Decades of resentment against Apple's high-handedness and condescension seem to be coming to the surface...For a company that has lived its life being fashionable and hip, this is almost a perfect storm of real-world problems."
  • Unfortunately, Secrecy Pays Off, says John Biggs at CrunchGear. "This has been Apple's summer, whether it wanted it to be or not. We're talking about Snow Leopard and tablets and prototypes and all this jazz and we're all amped up on fermented Apple juice...For better or worse Jobs' strange strategy worked."
  • Just the Kind of PR Apple Wants, says Levi Sumagasay at Good Morning Silicon Valley. "The secrecy, the paranoia, the iron fist -- are they all part of a brilliant ploy to keep people fascinated, and in turn attract even more attention? One would think not, what with Apple supposedly twice trying to shut down the piece before it ran. Yet the fascination continues."
  • Missed the True Soul of Steve Jobs, says Jonny Evans at 9to5Mac. "The report fails to examine any of the personal reflections Jobs shared during his famed Stanford University speech is a shame. Jobs came his closest yet to true self revelation during that speech."
  • A "Hit Piece," says MacDailyNews. "Four pages of anecdotal innuendo...digging up and re-spreading so much old manure."

But even while some decry the corporate culture, technophiles continue to speculate delightedly on Apple's next rumored product, the Tablet. As Steven Wildstrom demonstrates, the secrecy is exactly what makes debate so irresistible:

I swore to myself that I wouldn't write about the Apple tablet, that great unicorn of the high tech world, until I had some actual knowledge of what it really was and when it would appear. But I can't resist...
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.