The iPhone 5: Apple’s worst-kept secret

September 5, 2012, 12:06 PM UTC

The next iPhone? Source: iMore

FORTUNE — Two weeks before Steve Jobs was scheduled to unveil the original Mac mini at Macworld 2004 in Boston, a teenage blogger who called himself Nick dePlume broke the news on his website, Think Secret.

It wasn’t dePlume’s first Apple (AAPL) scoop. A report three years earlier that the company was preparing to release the PowerBook G4 earned him the first in a long series of cease-and-desist letters. But the Mac mini was the last straw. Apple sued Nicholas Ciarelli (his real name) under California’s trade secrets act, and as part of a settlement Ciarelli shuttered Think Secret in 2007.

Today, one week before the Sept. 12 special event at which Apple is expected to unveil the next iPhone, there is almost nothing about the new device that hasn’t already been widely — and brazenly — published.

iMore’s Rene Ritchie, whose iPhone leaks were better and more detailed than anybody else’s this product cycle, published an iPhone 5 round-up Wednesday that included links to specs, photos and even a video. (See here.)

Has Apple given up trying to control the leaks? It certainly seems that way.

Apple still issues cease-and-desist letters. In January it sent one to a Chinese toy maker trying to cash in on Steve Jobs’ memory with a look-alike doll. Two years earlier it asked Gawker to halt a “scavenger hunt” in which the gossip site offered $100,000 for a photo of the first iPad. The letter from Apple legal was taken as confirmation that the company was, as rumored, about to release a tablet computer.

That’s why Apple stopped sending cease-and-desists, says Jonathan (“Boy Genius”) Geller, who has received dozens in his day but never from Apple. “This way it at least leaves something up in the air.”

Steve Jobs, who staged product launches like Broadway shows, hated leaks and the bloggers who profited from them. Tim Cook, despite a promise to “double down” on secrecy, seems content to let them ride.

Reader Jim Neal suggests that the new CEO may have decided that allowing the tech press to build up expectations in advance of a product announcement is a good marketing strategy — even if it gives competitors a target to aim for.

Or, Neal suggests, Cook may be even better at misdirection that his predecessor was.

“A good magician,” Neal writes, “knows the trick to making something ‘magical’ isn’t simply misdirection — keeping you busy watching one hand while doing something with the other. The key, ultimately, is producing something unexpected. Yes, an iPhone 5 much different from the leaks would qualify. But could Apple be flooding the world with very real iPhone 5 leaks so everyone who has a vested interest in trying to second-guess Apple is too busy to look for anything else?”

We’ll find out next week.