Hungry Like A Wolf: How Apple Rumors Spread

Remember last week when Foxconn president Terry Gou said that he was working hard at building the new Apple TV? The rumor was, as you might suspect, patently false. But just how false is the surprising part.

Welcome to the magical world of Apple rumors.

Before we begin, take a look at this delightful Fortune piece that shows us the truth behind the big Apple rumor mill. It’s well-written and cogent and takes us all to task, including our own Matt Burns for jumping into the morass.

The iTV story trickled out at the end of last week. In short, it said that Foxconn president Terry Gou explicitly announced that Foxconn was “making preparations for iTV,” suggesting that the company was ready to build a flat panel TV for Apple at any moment. The statement appeared in a short piece on and said:

Gou said Foxconn is making preparations for iTV, Apple Inc’s rumored upcoming high-definition television, although development or manufacturing has yet to begin.

Now Terry Gou would have to be suicidal to say this. He would have to literally have most of his brain eaten by bacteria before he would announce a single Apple product. What’s more, no other press picked up this gem. It was apparently a misunderstanding because the day Terry Gou announces an Apple product is the day an asteroid scores a direct hit on the St. Louis Arch. There is, in short, no way he would risk all of Apple’s lucrative business just to score points with the press.

Had anyone – ourselves included – stopped for a moment and considered the ramifications of what Gou was allegedly saying, they’d understand the ridiculousness of the statements. However the idea – that the president of a major electronics manufacturer decides to go off the rails and let fly with a ridiculous rumor – is wildly compelling news. The piece spawned ancillary pieces about the possibilities of the iTV and what exciting features the non-existent product could have.

Foxconn, for their part, told TheNextWeb that:

At no time did he confirm that Foxconn was in development or manufacturing stages for any product for any of its customers. He did say that Foxconn is always prepared to meet the manufacturing needs of customers should they determine that they wish to work with Foxconn in the production of any of their products.

They closed with a forceful line: “Any reports that Foxconn confirmed that it is preparing to produce a specific product for any customer are not accurate.”

So what happened here? I think most Apple rumors are a combination of genuine interest and schadenfreude. For most journalists (read “bloggers”), Apple is a black box. They have no view inside and they often get short shrift when it comes to actual launched hardware. They know people love Apple, but Apple refuses to talk to them. So they – and we are equally guilty – ride Apple rumors into the shoals of fabulism. After all, if Apple PR doesn’t tell you the news ahead of time, then why even bother confirming it?

Second, you have the sense that Apple sometimes deserves these leaks. The flip side to interest in Apple news is a sense that Apple is so stingy with its news that it’s only right to upbraid the organization by essentially playing click games with the news. Who does it hurt if the iTV is talk of the blogosphere for most of the week? What does it matter if every tiny news station from here to Jakarta is running a brief on this “leak.” Apple deserves what it gets.

I’d say both those stances are valid yet it still doesn’t excuse the loss of levelheadedness. While I agree that the concept of an iTV is cool at best and newsworthy at worst, it’s up to us to separate rumor from ridiculousness. We didn’t do a good job this time.