The story surrounding the leak of what may possibly be the next iPhone has all the elements of new media intrigue – a company notorious about keeping secrets; sexy, cutting-edge gadgets; payments for story contributions; rumors of conspiracy; possible crippling lawsuits – and that’s just what we know now.
Overall, the question that anchors the debate is whether this is good or bad public relations for Apple. Some say that “iPhonegate” dials up loads of free positive publicity for the company, while others argue that the leaked 4G phone makes Apple look sloppy on product control. (While there is speculation about Apple purposely “planting” the phone to be lost and found, that doesn’t seem plausible – this is a company that doesn’t participate in amateur hour PR, and this situation seems no exception. Besides, the company will never admit that they lost a prototype anyway.)
Here’s a better way to look at the ordeal – maybe Apple is pissed that they lost total control of the public relations narrative. Gawker effectively unraveled and undermined Apple’s tight grip on the PR pipeline by releasing the prototype photos. And, as we know about the control-prone company, nothing could possibly irritate Apple more than not scripting the media storyline on their own terms. We can argue about the ethics of Gawker’s actions all day, but what can’t be denied is that Apple has no effective way to lead the story anymore.
So about that lawsuit… how about the odds on Apple pulling the trigger? They’re probably pretty good. Remember that Apple sued thinksecret.com into nonexistence after that site published leaked Apple trade secrets. Add to that the fact that the Gawker platform has been a relentless critic of Steve Jobs for quite some time. Add again to that the incredibly disrespectful manner in which Gizmodo responded to Apple’s request for the leaked phone to be returned, taunting the company that its gadget “was burning a hole in our pockets.” Add again to that the potential lost value to Apple, at least via legal calculations, can be made out to billions (as in B). It’s safe to say that Gawker can’t cover that bet.