The fact that Apple does not reveal prototypes but shipping products is the fundamental difference between their entire business strategy and that of the rest of the industry.
An excellent example illustrating how Apple is a consumer electronics company rather than a tech company. As Joel points out in his article “show and sell” is expectations management pure and simple (though often undermined by the rumour industry). However, I think it reflects a wider point, crucial to keep in mind when comparing Apple with other tech companies: Apple is primarily consumer product-oriented.
While other “tech” firms maintain a strong Geeks-to-Geeks relationship (with initiatives such as MS Research, Google Labs and embodied in products like Linux and Android), Apple has always put the Geeks-to-Consumers relationship first. It’s simply a different way of doing things, and it is reflected not only in the way they do business, as Joel points out above, but also in their products, both software and hardware.
“Geek” consumers play an integral role in the computer industry as early adopters, hackers, mashers, innovators — they help push computing forward. Thanks to the internet, personal computing devices have crossed the Geek Rubicon. Hence, geek consumers have become a minority in the wider consumer population. This wider market is why Apple dropped the “Computer” from their company name. The computer industry is no longer the monolithic harderbetterfasterstronger market it used to be.
Recall Apple’s old slogan: “The Computer for the rest of us.” A consumer brand is where Apple always wanted to be, though I would argue that they still have not reached their goal (see my Pure Simplicity post for more on this topic).