Always up for tweaking the breathless blogging that passes for technology journalism in Silicon Valley, ValleyWag this week offered to put up some real money if anyone could provide concrete evidence of the tablet computer that most Apple watchers expect CEO Steve Jobs to unveil at a Jan. 27 press happening in San Francisco.
"We've had enough of trying to follow all the speculation around Apple's impending tablet," ValleyWag's Gabriel Snyder wrote in a blog post announcing the Apple Tablet Scavenger Hunt. "If you can find the first genuine photos, video or -- the holy grail -- the actual messiah machine itself before then and they're exclusive to us, we'll give you a cash prize." The post offered $10,000 for bona-fide pictures, $20,000 for videos, $50,000 for images of Steve Jobs using the device, and $100,000 "to let us play with it for an hour."
After receiving a cease-and-desist letter from the Silicon Valley law firm of Orrick, Huntington and Sutcliffe, ValleyWag has declared the firm the winner of the contest, saying the letter confirms the existence of the tablet.
"You call this the 'scavenger hunt,'" but Apple calls it "offering a bounty for the theft of Apple's trade secrets," attorney Michael C. Spillner wrote. "Such an offer is illegal and Apple insists that you immediately discontinue the scavenger hunt."
ValleyWag's tongue-in-cheek response: The letter "is the most concrete evidence (from Apple itself, no less!) yet that there may indeed be a tablet in the works. Granted, it's no photo of Steve Jobs holding his heavenly device himself (prize: $50,000), but we do feel like it merits some kind of reward," Snyder wrote. The site claims it sent Spillner his reward: a DVD of Legally Blonde 2, a $25 Zune Marketplace gift card, and a "fabulous set of steak knives!"
Far from agreeing to suspend the contest, ValleyWag merely admonished people to stay within the boundaries of the law and "use anonymous e-mail addresses! We can't tell Apple who you are if we don't know who you are."
That's exactly the sort of thing that Apple's lawyers say is encouragement of illegal behavior: "Apple has maintained the types of information and things you are soliciting -- 'how it'll work, its size, the name, the software,' as well as any further details about the product's appearance, features and physical appearance -- in strict confidence."
Since anyone with knowledge would be under nondisclosure agreements, ValleyWag's offer constitutes inducing a misappropriation of trade secrets in violation of California law, the letter says.
Besides protecting legal interests, does this letter confirm the existence of the tablet? Despite ValleyWag's insistence, it probably doesn't.
The letter doesn't say there is a tablet; it says that ValleyWag is inducing people under legal obligation to keep quiet to spill the beans, which is a violation of law. Regardless of the existence of the tablet, or what happens on Jan. 27, Apple could sue ValleyWag parent Gawker for this behavior unless it stops.
Even so, the letter does seem sensitive to the risk of a leak, even just a few weeks before Apple's planned event. So it may in fact qualify as an indication, but hardly a smoking gun.