How Did the Apple Rumour Mill Get It So Wrong This Year?

A number of these leaks were shockingly inaccurate.
iPhone 13 and Apple Watch Series 7 Credit: EverythingApplePro
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With Apple’s penchant for keeping its products such closely guarded secrets, it’s no surprise that there’s an active community of leakers who are always eager to share whatever information they can glean on what the company is up to.

This year was no exception, and we began hearing rumours of what the new iPhone 13 would look like and what features it would include only days after Apple announced the iPhone 12. In fact, a few appeared before the iPhone 12 had even launched — in much the same way we’ve already been hearing early reports about next year’s iPhone 14. To a lesser degree, it’s the same for the rest of Apple’s product lineup as well.

But while the fact that there are leaks and rumours from the inside hasn’t changed, this time around, a number of these reports were shockingly inaccurate compared to those from prior years.

To be clear, the rumours weren’t all wrong, and some of the more reliable sources had some prescient information when it came to things like big camera upgrades, better battery life, the 1TB iPhone 13 Pro, and new 120Hz LTPO displays on the Pro models.

Of course, some of these predictions were like shooting fish in a barrel. For instance, we’ve been hearing rumours of the 120Hz displays since 2019, and it’s become apparent that it was only a supply chain shortage that prevented the new displays from coming to the iPhone 12 Pro last year.

Similarly, we can always count on battery life and camera improvements each year, and it wasn’t until only a couple of weeks ago that we heard any real specifics on what those would be.

What the Leaks Got Wrong

On the iPhone 13 front, the biggest false lead came from reports of a new iPhone 13 Pro colour.

What the Rumours Predicted: Although it seemed like a given that Apple would introduce another classy new colour for the iPhone 13 Pro, following in the footsteps of Midnight Green and Pacific Blue, multiple reports pointed to that colour being something in an orange hue.

As far back as March, leaker Max Weinbach was reporting that Apple was leaning toward a bronze-like orange finish. While Weinbach said at the time that Apple was still experimenting with the colour, a mid-summer supply chain leak seemingly confirmed it when it came up with the name “Sunset Gold”.

What We Got: Sierra Blue, on nearly the opposite side of the rainbow.

On its own, Sierra Blue is a surprising choice for Apple, since it not only followed two years of darker iPhone Pro colours, but since it joins the lighter Gold and Silver, it now leaves Graphite as the only option for those who prefer a more muted shade for their iPhone Pro.

Still, it was a surprising misstep for the rumour mill, which pegged both the Midnight Green iPhone 11 Pro in 2019 and the Pacific Blue iPhone 12 in early 2020 with a reasonable degree of accuracy. In fact, it was Max Weinbach who predicted the iPhone 12 Pro colour, and while he originally specified “Navy Blue,” we’re willing to call that one close enough, since it’s at least somewhere on the same page of the Pantone colour guide.

While we personally would have liked to see this mythic Sunset Gold colour over the Sierra Blue that Apple ultimately went with, we also recognize that’s a matter of personal taste.

However, the rumour that really set us all up for disappointment was the supposedly “massive redesign” that was expected to herald the arrival of the Apple Watch Series 7.

What the Rumours Predicted: A big redesign that would introduce something more akin to the iPhone 12 and iPad Pro-style, with flat sides and an edge-to-edge screen.

While veteran analyst Ming-Chi Kuo had hinted at a “significant form factor design change,” as far back as last fall, it was leakers Jon Prosser and Sam Kohl who first elaborated on what that actually meant, claiming to have seen actual images from “a very highly trusted source.”

The result was a slew of renders that showed a design that would have marked a major shift in the overall design language for Apple’s wearable, bringing it in line with modern iPhone and iPad models. The duo also hinted at a new green finish that would match the same colour on Apple’s AirPods Max and iPad Air 4.

This was followed by supposedly accurate CAD renders of the new Apple Watch that showed the same design that Prosser and Kohl had first shared.

In fact, these CAD documents were so prolific that Chinese knockoffs began appearing last month featuring the predicted design, based on these leaked documents that had supposedly come from within Apple’s supply chain.

Even Bloomberg’s generally reliable Mark Gurman got caught up by these rumours, predicting the new design in his Power On newsletter only three days ago.

While the iPhone won’t be seeing any momentous design changes, the Apple Watch will. Look for a flat screen and flat edges to match the iPhone and iPad design, plus a slew of new watch bands and watch faces.

Mark Gurman

What We Got: The same old design, with only minor refinements — although, perhaps ironically, it is available in green.

In fact, the only positive Apple Watch Series 7 rumour that turns out to be correct was the larger screen, but it also wasn’t quite the flat screen, surface-mounted screen that everybody had been predicting would go along with the storied redesign.

Instead, Apple simply shrunk the bezels and made the screen edges flow more seamlessly into the still-rounded edges of the Apple Watch. It’s an elegant design, to be fair, but it’s not at all what we were expecting. In fact, at a glance, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the Apple Watch Series 7 from a Series 6.

Apple also introduced the rumoured green colour option, but contrary to earlier speculation, it appears that this has little to do with matching the rest of its product family, since the new iPhone 13 lineup has dropped the green colour, and it’s also nowhere to be found on the new iPad mini 6.

It’s also a darker green that’s much closer to the Midnight Green of the 2019 iPhone 11 Pro models, so it’s not even close to the green found on the AirPods Max or last year’s iPad Air 4.

That said, Apple has aligned the new Apple Watch Series 7 with its other iPhone 13 colours, including the new Midnight and Starlight variations, along with Blue and (PRODUCT)RED. So, it would seem that the Pink iPhone 13 and the Green Apple Watch Series 7 are the only two outliers here.

About the only Apple Watch rumour that we’d say was conclusively right was a negative one: Mark Gurman’s insistence that there would be no new health sensors coming this year.

Why Were the Leaks So Wrong This Year?

Although it’s likely nobody outside of Apple knows for certain why there was such a disconnect between these earlier rumours and what actually arrived, we strongly suspect that this year’s bad leaks were the result of a deliberate misinformation campaign on Apple’s part.

While there were several smaller rumours that didn’t come true either, such as LiDAR sensors on the non-Pro iPhone models, and under-display Touch ID, these were both early and inconsistent enough that it was easy to write them off as the usual speculation. Further, few of these also claimed any special inside knowledge of what Apple was up to, but were rather based on reading the tea leaves from Apple’s supply chain — an imperfect science at best.

However, both the Apple Watch Series 7 redesign and the new iPhone 13 Pro colour came from leakers who claimed to have actually seen images and renderings from trusted sources. Most of these also aren’t fly-by-night leakers… While Jon Prosser has occasionally said some pretty crazy things, and even been duped once or twice, there’s never been any evidence that he’s making stuff up outright.

Even though Apple has always worked hard to protect the secrecy of its products, it seems to be pulling out all the stops this year. It’s declared war on leakers in the past, but this year it’s been going after them harder than ever.

We saw indications earlier this year that Apple may have deliberately planted a false event date as a sort of “sting operation” against leakers. Jon Prosser even said as much, sharing that many of his sources kept pointing to a March 23 event, while a solitary other “vague” but “crazy accurate” source had kept telling him that it would actually be in April — which of course it was.

It wasn’t just Prosser, either. A whole collection of normally reliable leakers kept insisting on a March 23 Apple event that was likely never planned in the first place — just like they’ve all spent the past few months doubling down on the bronze-coloured iPhone 13 Pro and the redesigned Apple Watch Series 7.

It’s likely no coincidence that the last time Apple cracked down hard on leakers was in 2017 — the same year that Apple was preparing to release the iPhone X, and the last time we saw such a big disconnect between leakers and what actually arrived. Supposedly reliable predictions at the time ranged from in-display or rear-mounted Touch ID sensors to the new models being dubbed the iPhone 7s, iPhone 7s Plus and iPhone 8 — or even the iPhone Edition — and available in multiple colours.

With Apple clearly running an offensive campaign against leakers again this year, we wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that it actively planted false information, not just to ensure that it still had a few surprises to share, but also to plug the holes in its veil of secrecy by ferreting out employees and those within its supply chain who are providing inside info to leakers.

In fact, it was likely even easier for Apple to control the flow of information this year. Since most of its staff are still working remotely, leaker sources inside of Apple’s walls would be less likely to come across the real design documents, which could be much more closely held within more trusted circles.

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