Apple’s culture of secrecy

Mon, Jun 22, 2009

Analysis, Featured, News

The New York Times has an interesting article detailing what some might refer to as Apple’s extreme and paranoid insistence on complete and utter secrecy.  As the article notes, large companies are increasingly taking advantage of social media tools to strengthen their brand and connect more directly with consumers.  Apple, however, continues to sit on the sidelines.

Few companies, indeed, are more secretive than Apple, or as punitive to those who dare violate the company’s rules on keeping tight control over information. Employees have been fired for leaking news tidbits to outsiders, and the company has been known to spread disinformation about product plans to its own workers.

“They make everyone super, super paranoid about security,” said Mark Hamblin, who worked on the touch-screen technology for the iPhone and left Apple last year. “I have never seen anything else like it at another company.”

Since Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he has made control of the entire user experience a top priority.  This is evident in how Apple packages its products, the stores in which they’re sold, and even stretches out to affect how the public first becomes aware of new Apple products in the first place.

Think back to the original introduction of the iPhone at Macworld 2007. While people were expecting a product called an “iPhone” in some form or another, the actual product presented by Steve Jobs exceeded, by orders of magnitude, what anyone in their wildest dreams could have anticipated.  That jaw dropping moment when consumers realized just how revolutionary the iPhone was would have been watered down had Apple been more lax on leaked rumors regarding the device.  For Apple, the surprise is often part of the entire product.

Secrecy at Apple is not just the prevailing communications strategy; it is baked into the corporate culture. Employees working on top-secret projects must pass through a maze of security doors, swiping their badges again and again and finally entering a numeric code to reach their offices, according to one former employee who worked in such areas.

Work spaces are typically monitored by security cameras, this employee said. Some Apple workers in the most critical product-testing rooms must cover up devices with black cloaks when they are working on them, and turn on a red warning light when devices are unmasked so that everyone knows to be extra-careful, he said.

While it would be nice if Apple were more open, it’s hard to argue that their secretive policies have done anything to hurt them or its consumers.  As Apple fans we have to remember that we aren’t entitled to secret information no matter how bad we might be interested in it.  Besides, there are already a good number of Apple rumor sites that do a great job of un-earthing info that you can bet Apple would like to keep private.  Still, how cool would it be if Steve Jobs or the ever rambunctious Bertrand Serlet had a Twitter account?

You can check out the full article over here.


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