How to debunk a Macworld rumor

Rumors and hearsay, gossip and scuttlebutt are the coin of the realm for Apple fans in the days, now hours, that precede CEO Steve Jobs strutting across the stage in his trademark black turtleneck, Big Brother-sized screen at his back, to launch new shiny things into the marketplace.

But not every tale told is one told true. Not even in Macland, where Jobs' reputed "reality distortion field" is legendary enough to have its own acronym: RDF.

There are ways to pick at the woof, or maybe that's the weave, of a Macworld rumor so it starts to unravel.

Here are three examples, including a couple of late-entry rumors that popped up just Monday.

That's a big 'M,' little 'w'. For a short time Monday, Wikipedia posted a bullet list that purported to be a rough outline of Jobs' expected Macworld presentation. (He goes on stage at 9 a.m. PST; Computerworld plans to live-blog his keynote address as it happens.) That "presentation" outline quickly vanished from the online encyclopedia, but lives on at Pocket-lint.com.

The outline was chock-o-block with juicy details that added verisimilitude, including the clever "draft 5" notation, and enough believable items -- Steve talks up iPod sales, Steve unveils iPhone software development kit (SDK) -- to make it convincing. It's an old trick; mix in things that are true with those that may not be. IPod sales do remain strong; Apple has already said that the SDK will be out soon.

But who at Apple would spell the company's boffo blow-out "MacWorld" with a capital "W" when everyone knows -- including the people who printed the banners that went up over the weekend -- that it's a lowercase letter, as in "Macworld."

Base 2, that's all you need to know. A screen grab posing as a quick shot of the Apple online store quickly made the rounds, supposedly spelling out the configuration details and price of what wags have said will be called the "MacBook air." The picture was presumably made after some doofus on the server side at Apple accidentally clicked the "publish" button on a secret page showing the "air" -- a lighter, thinner notebook that relies on a solid state drive built from flash RAM, rather than the spinning platters of a traditional hard drive.

But as Valleywag.com pointed out Monday, something smells about the specs. Specifically, the "screenshot" lists SSD (solid state drive) options at 60GB and 80GB. Trouble is, Samsung, the leader in the notebook SSD arena and a major supplier to Apple, doesn't sell its 2.5-in. and 1.8-in. drives in either 60GB or 80GB capacities. Instead, the blocks of memory come in "densitities" of 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, 48GB or 64GB. (And no, we don't know how the not-a-base-2 number of '48' snuck in there.)

3G, as in 'gee, I don't think so'. Although the iPhone certainly sports far fewer rumors this year than last, some don't die easily, including the tall tale that Jobs will introduce, as in available for sale now, a 3G-based iPhone.

Not gonna happen, said Gene Munster, analyst with Piper Jaffray Co. in an interview last Friday. His sources among Chinese component suppliers have repeatedly pegged the launch of a 3G iPhone in June 2008.

In some ways, there's less to debunk here, since no one's trotted out a bogus spec sheet, but there's still plenty of circumstantial evidence. For one thing, the iPhone roll-out in Europe was just two months ago. If observers wondered what lit a fire under U.S. iPhone owners in August when Jobs announced a $200 price cut, they'll have to ask who brought the gasoline if Apple stiffs Europe, where 3G is much more prevalent than on this side of the Atlantic.

Of course, Jobs could spite the disbelievers and prove any of these debunks so much chit-chat. In that case, check back for the "How to debunk a Macworld rumor debunker" story post-keynote.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld
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