The Pros and Cons of Secrecy

by Steven Leigh Nov 20, 2007

There is no question about it: Apple is a very secretive company. If you need proof of this, try a Google search for “Apple rumors.” Okay, now try a search for “Microsoft rumors.” See my point? Every product Apple produces, from hardware to software, is a closely guarded secret. Information about a new product is carefully crafted and released at a controlled pace. Every press release, every web page, and every keynote presentation is finely honed to give out only the information Apple decides to release, and only when they’re ready. This has spawned a number of sites devoted to keeping track of not only “approved” information, but also rumors and speculation that may give clues about the future. Apple’s secrecy and closed-door policy has certainly served them well through the years, but there are pros and cons to this approach. Let’s explore the pros and cons of Apple’s secrecy.


The biggest downside is that consumers never know when a new product will be released, a price drop will happen, or an old product discontinued. If you buy a Macbook today, you never know if a new one with brand new features will be released one day after your return policy expires. If you bought an iPod two months before the new models were released, you might feel a bit cheated. And of course, the biggest example of this is the iPhone fiasco. 

A company like Microsoft, on the other hand, is very forthcoming about new products. Vista has been on the horizon for five years. The Zune was announced long before it shipped. The Xbox 360 was no surprise either. But Microsoft is in a different situation than Apple. Microsoft caters as much to business users as to home users, and large businesses need to plan ahead for something like an operating system upgrade. It takes many hours and many people. If Microsoft waited until months before release to announce Vista, none of their corporate customers would even consider upgrading. Apple can get away with this partly because their customers are mostly home users and smaller businesses, and also because it is they way they have always operated.  Once a company makes an early announcement of a new product, as Microsoft does, it creates the expectation that they will continue that policy; Apple, on the other hand, has always been shrouded in secrecy, and therefore has fed an opposite expectation. Does it work well for Apple? Let’s move on to the Pros.


Since a company like Microsoft makes early announcements of products, you always know where you stand. No one would buy an Xbox one month before the Xbox 360, unless it was intentional. No one would buy a Zune one month before the Zune 2.0 is released. With Apple, you just never know. If you buy a Macbook Pro today, it could be updated in one week or four months. If you buy an Apple TV today, they could replace it with something even more amazing at a lower price in three weeks. While this may annoy those who purchased at the wrong time, this uncertainty serves Apple well. While Zune sales go down once the next product is announced, consumers are happily purchasing iMacs the day before the new line is released. Apple’s return and upgrade policies help to smooth over the potential of angry customers who purchased within 14 days of a release.

The other positive effect of their secrecy is a high volume of sales upon release of new products. The rumor sites usually hit close to the mark on when a new product is likely to hit the shelves, and savvy customers know when to wait a few more weeks for new products. Once the new product arrives, sales go through the roof, the product looks to be a big hit in the early sales number, and Apple’s stock price climbs even higher. 

It can certainly be a frustrating experience for the consumer to deal with Apple’s constant secrecy, but the company’s success relies on it. Whether or not you agree with the decisions the company makes, you can hardly argue that it works. Apple creates an atmosphere of mystery and anticipation, the sense that there is always something really cool waiting right around the corner to surprise us, and it’s not likely to change anytime soon. So fire up the rumor sites, give it your best guess, and pray that your expensive new gadget isn’t obsolete in three weeks.


  • It can certainly be a frustrating experience for the consumer to deal with Apple’s constant secrecy, but the company’s success relies on it.

    I’m not convinced that this is the case.  The iPhone was announced a good six months before it was released and not only were sales not hurt by this, but they were helped by the constant media attention and anticipation.

    There is no upside for the consumer from the secrecy.  You are either going to be unaffected or you are going to get boned by an ill-timed purchase.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Nov 20, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • I suspect there’s two main reasons for Apple’s secrecy:

    1) To avoid the embarrassment of missing proposed launch dates. Leopard is a case in point. Would Apple have preferred to wait a few weeks more to polish Leopard? Sure! But they’d said by the end of October so they had to get it out.

    Remember too with the iPhone how Steve said they were working on a different device when they came up with the interface and he changed the focus to building a phone with it. So if they had’ve pre-announced that other device, they would have copped flak for not delivering it.

    2) To avoid competitors guzzumping them or trashing them with FUD. Even though the iPhone’s advance notice was overall very beneficial, it is more likely the exception as it was a unique device. Even so, there was a mass of FUD circulating about it.

    I think #2 is a legacy of Apple’s days as a small player, but nowadays its definitely #1 that’s most important to Apple. Vapourware is never a good look.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Nov 20, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • I agree that the secrecy helps apple.

    Basically, people are left with wondering and hope, and this builds anticipation and interest in the company and products. We’re geared to be interested in a little mystery, but when we know what’s behind it we have the answer - the talk stops and a subset of people are interested (and later buy the product).

    Sure there are exceptions.

    Is it just me, or were there more articles and talk on the gPhone before the Asteroid announcement than there has been since?

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Nov 20, 2007 Posts: 228
  • To avoid the embarrassment of missing proposed launch dates.

    I don’t think it’s necessary for them to announce products at the moment someone thinks of them.  It’s not like Steve Jobs wakes up and says, “I know!  The iToilet!  Put out a press release!”  And then five minutes later:  “Damn what a terrible idea!  But we’ve already announced it!”

    But surely Apple knows two or three months out that a product is definitely shipping, which would be ample time to build up anticipation and customer awareness.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Nov 20, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • Apple has had some important lessons in pre-announcing products. Remember John Scully pre-hyping the Newton resulting in competitors having plenty of time to steal ideas and reduce the innovation factor while causing Apple’s own staff to cut major features to meet the deadline, effectively killing a category changing product. By the time Apple pulled the product together into what it should have been at the start, it was too late. This easily could have been the iPhone.

    samarks had this to say on Nov 21, 2007 Posts: 1
  • It would be so much less fun without the secrecy.

    Benji had this to say on Nov 22, 2007 Posts: 927
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