ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Well, now from Twitter to Apple. Rumors are circulating that Apple will soon release a device that could revolutionize the way we read newspapers. It's called the Tablet or the Newton. The fact is nobody knows. Will it be 6 inches or 10 inches? Apple is not talking, but as NPR's Katia Dunn reports, entire teams of people are working hard, and getting paid, to uncover Apple's best kept secrets.
KATIA DUNN: John Gruber says that when he meets new people at holiday parties and family gatherings, he struggles with what seems like a simple question: What do you do?
Mr. JOHN GRUBER (Blog Writer): The short answer is that I'm a writer. And then if they say, well, what do you write, then it gets a little complicated.
DUNN: Gruber is not a conventional journalist. He works from his home in Philadelphia writing a tech blog called Daring Fireball. It's almost exclusively about Apple, often about upcoming products like the Tablet. One thing that makes his job complicated is that Apple almost never reveals anything about its products before they are released. In one posting, Gruber described what the Tablet might look like and yet...
Mr. GRUBER: Apple has never mentioned it. Apple has never said one single word about ever producing a new tablet computer. This is entirely speculation.
DUNN: Apple's cult of secrecy has bred a whole industry of bloggers like Gruber. He describes himself as the Roger Ebert of the industry - mostly a critic of Apple products. But some of his peers pride themselves on their investigative reporting. Neil Hughes works for AppleInsider with a team of eight other reporters in Punta Gorda, Florida. They compete with sites like MacRumors, Boy Genius and MacDailyNews to break stories about Apple products.
Mr. NEIL HUGHES (News Editor, AppleInsider): This summer, for some reason, people kept thinking that it was coming out this fall, and our sources told us: no way, no how. It's not coming out until the first quarter of 2010.
DUNN: That's Hughes, talking about his reporting on the Tablet. He talks regularly to sources inside the industry. And every week he combs through Apple's latest patent filings, the lawsuits filed against the company, and the job openings they've posted, looking for any hints about product developments. Many of these bloggers sustain themselves through advertising. They say they've seen steady growth in the appetite for Apple news. As one writer put it: People just eat this stuff up.
Mr. ROBERT PASSIKOFF (Brand Strategist, Brand Keys): Blogs are probably only, you know, four years old in the scheme of the world, but leaking news to the press about something that's upcoming has always been a relatively useful tactic for generating consumer interest.
DUNN: Robert Passikoff is a brand strategist at the company Brand Keys. There is no evidence that Apple purposefully leaks news to the press. But Passikoff thinks Apple cultivates speculation about its products. Plus, he says, people have personal relationships with their iPods and iTouches. They feel these devices understand them.
Mr. PASSIKOFF: On an unarticulated, but very, very emotional basis, how did they anticipate what I wanted?
DUNN: So, it's like I can't wait to find out what else Apple is going to tell me I want.
Mr. PASSIKOFF: Exactly, right.
DUNN: I asked John Gruber of Daring Fireball if he ever feels like a puppet in Apple's free PR scheme. He said it's more complicated than that.
Mr. GRUBER: While it does work out well for them, I don't really think it's quite cultivated.
DUNN: Gruber says bloggers like himself are just a byproduct of Apple's groundbreaking design. He thinks it makes sense that journalists would cover significant developments in technology. Plus, he points out, he has a job he loves, making good money writing about a fascinating subject.
Katia Dunn, NPR News.
SIEGEL: And don't forget to check out our technology blog, that's npr.org/alltech.
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