How Past Apple Leaks Predict Future Products

If the past is indeed prologue, here’s what to expect from the new iPads.

Apple leaks. This much is certain. During its rise to global consumer tech dominance over the last decade or so the world has seized upon any info that managed to ooze out of Cupertino. But recently these leaks have gotten more juicy. That’s not because of a relaxation of Apple’s strict secrecy clampdown; it’s because Apple’s so big and its supply chain tendrils stretch so far that leaks have become inevitable.


These leaks give us tantalizing glimpses into how Apple’s innovation engine works–sometimes trying ideas like an iPod nano with a camera and then dumping the plan. They also show how relentless the development cycle is because there’s now regularly a snippet about one top-rank product or two leaking…meaning teams of engineers are constantly poring over the details.

Now certain Apple leaks can be used to fairly accurately predict coming innovations in terms of hard technology or external design that Apple’s going to craft into its latest device. So let’s look into our Apple-shaped crystal ball to see what the leaks of products past can tell us about what’s heading our way in the future.

The Skinny iPhone 5

Remember last year’s rumors about a super-skinny iPhone that was finally going to bring an even older rumor–the all-metal-back–to reality? They had a technical truthiness that let us create a render of what we predicted the iPhone 5 might look like in pretty good detail. And lo and behold…when the iPhone 5 surfaced a few months later we were almost exactly right. There was a specificity to these rumors that made them ring true, and they tied up with much common sense analysis and previous Apple patents and so on.

The Fat iPad 3

Rumor after rumor suggested the iPad 3 was going to be fatter than its predecessor. Details quickly emerged that it would sport a retina screen and that this tech needed additional hardware that made a fatter chassis almost inevitable. Then some back shells leaked out, and proved eventually to be the real deal. Apple’s own teaser image for the iPad 3’s release revealed the presence of a retina-resolution screen. Almost everything else about the iPad 3 could be deduced from other leaks and logical analysis of Apple’s iPhone evolution habits.

The Skinny iPad 2

Much as happened with the iPad 3 hardware leaks and case designs from third party manufacturers gave away the thinner, flatter shape of the iPad 2 months before its release. A Wall Street Journal “leak” quelled some wilder rumors the iPad 2 would have a retina display.

The iPod Nano

So many bits of hardware leaked before the release of the sixth generation iPod nano in 2010 that we were able to render our own artist’s impression of the device–and nailed it, more or less.


The 11-inch MacBook Air

Apple’s original 13-inch MacBook Air shook up the laptop world… but very soon after, users were wondering if Apple would tackle the lower end of the market with a smaller-screened version. In September 2010 these rumors got more concrete with detailed order info coming from Apple’s Chinese suppliers. In October Apple released the device.

This Year’s iPad 5 And iPad Mini 2

Recent leaks of thin-shelled full-size iPad parts suggest that the iPad 5 will have a narrow, flat profile much like the first iPad mini. Rumblings about novel screen tech suggest that Apple may be able to make the display much thinner to help accomplish a narrower profile. It may even have a narrower bezel, but a beefed-up processor and better camera tech would seem a lock-in.

A second-gen iPad mini would almost certainly take design cues from the iPad 5. Recent speculation has suggested it’ll get a boost to a retina display, but it may borrow its inner tech from the iPad 3 to achieve the device’s lower price point.

You know why we can be pretty confident in these last two predictions? Because of all the preceding ones mentioned here. Of course, we may be wildly wrong–but it’s beginning to look like Apple’s secrecy veil has been torn into a million little pixels.

[Image: Flickr user dhaun]

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I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)