Apple's iPad Secrecy Obsession Comes With Blacked-Out Windows

AppleEvery company envies the buzz that accompanies new products released by Apple. How do they do it, time and again? One secret to their product launch success is secrecy itself. When details do leak about new Apple products, they are often false--and you never see a major Apple product leak the way Microsoft's Courier tablet did last year.

But now, for the first time, sketchy details of the non-disclosure agreements that the company insists on its partners signing, are emerging. And it offers evidence about just how far Apple is willing to go to protect its IP. Here are some of the highlights of the ten-plus-page NDA document.

  • Testers of the iPad must, apparently, keep the device isolated in a room with blacked-out windows.
  • The iPad must remain tethered to a fixed object.
  • Pre-release versions of its products must be kept under lock and key
  • No Tweeting about even using the device is permitted.
  • Not all developers can get their hands on a device before its launch. For that, Apple has created simulator software which replicates the OS of an iPad on another tablet--possibly what Wired used to demonstrate its iPad version at SXSW this week. Unless you are an iPhone developer, you have to pay.

Master marketeer Jobs understands that the less that leaks about Apple products, the more of a Boom! they make on the market, ergo, more units shifted, is vitally important to a company's health. Its stringent secrecy rules are, in part, due to the company's success in this area. And Jobs is utterly ruthless about enforcing this rule within the company, as well as amongst its partners.

"In fact, we've been allowed to work on one, and it's under padlock and key," said Rupert Murdoch at a conference in early march. "The key is turned by Apple every night..."

One senior systems engineer with the company in the first half of this millennium, was let go after he provided unreleased Mac software to a customer. A Wall Street Journal editor who told the world via his Twitter account that he'd had his mitts on the iPad removed the tweet from the site. A couple of developers, one a former head of Marketing at Apple who left to start Electronic Arts, begged and pleaded for an iPad for development purposes. Computer company said No.

First rule about Apple R&D, obviously, is that you do not talk about Apple R&D. This policy extends to its manufacturers, sometimes with devastating results. Whether the firm's Worldwide Loyalty Team exists or not, Cupertino is remarkably airtight. But maybe that's because its inhabitants are highly aware that loose lips sink ships. Sometimes, the firm even makes minute alterations to products when it sends them out in order to trace potential leaks.

And perhaps this uber-cautious approach is why we're now hearing reports suggesting that Apple is scrambling to attract more content partners to the iPad. Their reluctance to hand the iPad out to developers en masse is limiting the number of facets that can be added to the company's latest jewel by launch. Apple must be banking on the fact that the legions of fans who indulge in its monotheistic brand worship will last long enough for the developers to get their apps built after the device is on sale.

However draconian you may or may not think Apple's NDA is, however, it's a silken cord (albeit a legal one) when compared to some companies. A military research establishment in the UK had its own secure room. In a basement, it boasted Faraday-cage doors and isolated power supplies. Inside sat a solitary PC on a desk, with locked blocking units in its USB--and other--ports. There was no way you could connect it up to anything else. 

[Via Business Week and Wall Street Journal, Image Via ArsTechnica]

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