Steve Jobs redefines email marketing

Xavier Verhoeven
30 March, 2010
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Mac fans have long known that they could email Steve Jobs at sjobs[at], and very occasionally, he (or someone else at Apple) has been known to reply. In recent weeks, however, the replies appear to be getting more frequent, and ever more succinct.

The brevity, I don’t mind. Steve is undoubtedly a busy man, and it adds to the mystery and secrecy that Apple likes to cloud itself in. But the increasing frequency doesn’t make so much sense. Perhaps Steve is just so enamoured with his iPhone, and more recently iPad (the emails usually have the “Sent from my …” tagline), that he likes to use it whenever he can.

But that still doesn’t fit with my perception of Steve. This is the guy who, since returning to Apple, has built the company up to the giant it is today and made billions along the way. His ability to launch great products with designs that blow the opposition out of the water is second-to-none, but it is precisely through his tight control on who has access to information about these products that they have become hits. It’s pure marketing, and it’s driven by Steve.

That’s why I think that these emails are a new marketing strategy. These ‘controlled leaks’ fuel media interest in the Apple machine. At the same time, they further project Steve’s personality into an increasingly social web – without him having to join Twitter like the rest of us.

Some have labelled the replies as ‘terse’, but I actually think they’re playful. They tease the recipient – and the rest of us when they’re inevitably covered by every tech blog – with the illusion of inside knowledge without actually giving anything away. And I think we’re going to see the emails become more common – not least because the recent interest in the emails will inevitably result in an influx in Mr Jobs’ inbox. More importantly, the emails give Apple a new way to leak information that encourages the attention it craves.

What Steve has to say

The shortest we’ve seen is a simple “No.” This was Jobs’ reply to Jezper from Sweden who asked whether the WiFi iPad would support tethering through the iPhone. Sorry Jezper. No tethering for you. Nor the rest of us, for that matter.

Andrea from Italy asked about whether free ebooks would work with iBooks on the iPad. The reply? “Yep.” Thanks Steve. It’s good to know you want us to be able to read the classics without taking a 30% cut first.

“Yep” was also the response to whether a future iPhone OS would support a unified email inbox. And another fan got a “Yes” to whether there would be a way to get iWork documents on the iPad through or iDisk.

Want to know which US retailers will be selling the iPad at launch? There’s an email for that: “Initially at Apple Retail and online stores and Best Buy,” was Jobs’ relatively extended reply. Perhaps the secret is in phrasing a question so that Yes/No isn’t a valid response.

Then came the very ambiguous “Not to worry” response to an email from someone who was “losing heart in the lack of vision” for Apple’s pro hardware. This one got Mac fans (myself included) in a frenzy recently, assuming this meant an update was imminent. The update never came. Perhaps Steve was telling us not to worry because he knew it would be a long wait.

A UK-based Picasa user wanted to know if Apple would support its faces and albums in iTunes. “No, but iPhoto on the Mac has much better Faces and Places features”. Touché, Mr Jobs.

What about a small company pleading to protect its livelihood, after being threatened by legal action for using ‘iPod’ in the name of its software? Does Jobs feel guilty and give in? Nope: “Change your app’s name. Not that big of a deal.” Of course it wasn’t that big of a deal after all the free publicity the email got them.

My favourite? “This is what happens when your MacBook Pro sustains water damage. They are pro machines and they don’t like water. It sounds like you’re just looking for someone to get mad at other than yourself.” This was a reply back in 2008. I probably don’t need to tell you the question.

If you’ve heard from the big man himself, send us your reply: amwonline[at]

I just wrote to him asking for an Australian iPad release date. I guarantee you’ll hear all about it if he replies.

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