This is why Apple says it’s cracking down on leakers

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You’ve got to love the irony: a cease-and-desist letter Apple sent to a leaker in China has leaked.

The letter, seen by Motherboard, gives two reasons why leaks make Apple so grumpy, and one is significantly more plausible than the other.

Apple’s – or rather Apple’s lawyers’ – contention is that inaccurate leaks create havoc for the numerous accessory makers around the world, by pushing them to make goods that ultimately don’t fit with the finished products. Or, as per the letter, “third-party accessory manufacturers may develop and sell mobile phone cases and other accessories that are not actually compatible with the unreleased products.”

You would have thought Apple’s beef would be with the companies that crazily choose to build their products according to unsubstantiated leaked specifications rather than Apple’s own documentation, but apparently not. Rather it’s the leaks that are to blame, because they’re inaccurate and can lead to mistakes by Apple’s partners.

On the other hand, and in something of a contradiction, in the same letter, Apple contends that leaks are also bad because they take the fun away from the company’s big showcase events. In other words, they’re too accurate. 

“Apple has made every effort to take strict measures to maintain confidentiality for any information about Apple’s products before their official release to ensure that every time Apple releases a new product, it can surprise the public,” the letter reads. “The secret of Apple’s latest technological innovation is an important part of the company DNA.

“Such situations harm the interests of consumers and Apple,” it continues. “Therefore, it is obvious that when the unpublished information about the design and performance of Apple’s products is kept confidential, it has actual and potential commercial value.”

It’s hard to argue with that point, although I would bet that the proportion of Apple’s customers that follow the dull minutia of day-to-day leaks is relatively small, so it’s also likely that the problem is overstated. For many, Apple’s events are the first they hear about new products, even if details have been extensively covered by the specialist technology press.

There are two other reasons why Apple might be keen to stamp leaks out, though both are notably absent from the letter. 

The first is that, as one of most imitated tech brands on the planet, Apple is justified in being particularly wary of its opponents. Leaked devices mean that rivals can start developing me-too products ahead of time, which makes Apple’s innovations stand out less.

The second is something akin to the Osborne effect, where customers hold off on buying a product because the company announces an improved model or successor long before it’s formally released. Apple notably has very short lead times between products being announced and appearing on shelves, but leaks are beyond its control and certainly could prevent buyers picking up an Apple product today. 

Will Apple’s legal warnings make a difference? One recipient of a letter already expressed his intent to “tone back” posts about Apple products, so there’s room for optimism for the company. But with so many leakers around – and some presumably hard to track down thanks to the anonymity of social media accounts – you would imagine that Apple is ultimately fighting a losing battle on this one.

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