Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Anatomy of a rumor: The Atom-powered Newton iPhone

May 15, 2008: 9:12 AM ET

As Winston Churchill might have put it, an Apple rumor can fly halfway around the world before truth has a chance to get its boots on.

Case in point: the iPhone mini-tablet story that broke Wednesday afternoon in Germany.

It started with a bad computer an English translation of a sloppy dispatch in the German language version of ZDnet. Under the headline "iPhone kommt mit größerem Display und Intel Atom," ZDNet.de reported on a speech given by Intel Germany CEO Hannes Schwaderer in Munich. The key passage, as machine-translated, edited and re-broadcast by MacRumors:

As part of an Intel event for the 40th birthday of the semiconductor company at Munich's BMW World, Germany managing director Hannes Schwaderer confirmed today what has long been a rumor on the Internet: namely, that there is an iPhone with Intel's new Atom chip. The device is slightly larger than the current version, Schwaderer said. That is not, however, because of the Intel chip, but because of the larger display used in the new iPhone. (link)

MacRumors' Arnold Kim helpfully added that this correlated with "circulating rumors" that Apple was working on a mini-tablet (720x480) device.

That's all it took. By Thursday morning, there were 15 headlines on Techmeme echoing and amplifying the ZDNet report, among them:

AppleInsider ran a Photoshop rendition of a Newton-size iPhone and reminded readers that the device Intel Germany's CEO now "vouches" for was first reported by AppleInsider last September. (link) Seth Weintraub in Computerworld went so far in his tablet-iPhone speculation as to post a bar graph of benchmark tests comparing the Atom to predecessor chips. (link)

The only trouble with all of this is that it's not true, as Intel (INTC) PR took pains to point out in ZDNet's next-day quasi-retraction.

Intel specifically "disclaimed" the report that started it all. Intel Germany's CEO was only making general remarks about the kind of mobile devices the Atom might power in the future and did not mean to speculate about future Apple (AAPL) products. He mentioned the iPhone in this connection, according to Intel, only as an example of a small Internet device.

"Intel knows nothing over future products of other manufacturers and can therefore over it also nothing say," press spokesman Mike Cato told ZDNet in a quote that probably sounded better in German than it does in Babel Fish translation. (link)

[UPDATE: MacRumors' Kim stands by his German-to-English translation (duly noted, and corrected above) and notes that ZDNet now points to second account of Schwaderer's speech from PCGamesHardware.de:

"PCGH-Editor Daniel Waadt was there as well an can attest, that Schwaderer referred to the iPhone as an example for the use of the atom-processor from Intel. The Intel CEO mentioned furthermore, that the display on iPhone 2 would be bigger than on iPhone 1 (although it is already quite big). iPhone 2 is also thinner than iPhone 1." (via MacRumors, translated "by Leo from Fscklog")

We leave it to the reader to determine if this confirms the existence of the mini-tablet iPhone.]

Posted in: , , , ,
Join the Conversation
About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

Email | @philiped | RSS
Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.