Sometimes it seems that if Steve Jobs sneezed it would be news -- and, given their ghoulish fascination with his health, send analysts off to mark down their valuation of Apple stock.
Today's Wall Street Journal has a story that promises much in the headline but delivers less in the body copy. Jobs is back at at Apple and getting his hands dirty with the much-mooted tablet computer project, it appears. That noise you heard in the background was a man being bitten by a dog.
The best part of the story comes with Jobs' emailed repsonse to the Journal reporter. "Much of your information is incorrect," he wrote with Stevian brevity, although I prefer to think he sang-snarled the words like his hero Bob Dylan in a put-down song such as Positively Fourth Street or Ballad Of A Thin Man.
As I have written recently, Apple's PR has taken another bashing recently by reporters who think it is their right to have traditional means of access to information -- and, sometimes perhaps, stories delivered to them, and preferably on a silver platter. But PR can also do a defensive job and help build up mystique and interest, and once again Apple has kept us all guessing as to its Next Big Thing.
I can't resist joining in and I'd be happy enough if the consensus of wisdom is correct in anticipating a tablet computer in the offing. To some nonbelievers in the cult of Apple this is dull stuff because tablet computers are not new. But it's worth remembering that Apple is not so much an innovator that seeks always to be first-mover; very often its role has been in improving and popularising fields such as personal computers, GUIs, MP3 players or smartphones. If you want to stir it, you could say that in some ways Apple has become the new Dell.
And the tablet computer could surely do with popularising. Twenty years ago, these were devices for vertical markets, designed by compnaies like Grid and used in healthcare, retail and others areas where input was limited to ticking boxes. Bill Gates was a big supporter but Microsoft made a dog's dinner when it attempted to make Windows into system software for a larger category of pen-based computers. It tried again with a much better system based on Windows XP but even with improved handwriting recognition and some handsome convertible clamshell/tablet designs the market didn't move.
Apple has the brand, design brilliance and ability to extract cash from wallets that could move things, even if, as I suspect, what it delivers is really a glorified media player or grown-up iPod or iPhone. The tablet format is nicely suited to being a portable thigh-top device for watching movies, reading, playing music and tuning into radio and TV. Whatever happens, thanks to Apple's cloak-and-dagger marketing, we'll all be watching.