Last week, Mac sites were abuzz with rumors that Apple was about to update its iMac line. On Tuesday (the day when most product refreshes are announced in Cupertino), new iMacs appeared on the Apple site. The company was able to engineer, design and put into production entirely new Macs without so much as a peep from anyone inside the company (or its suppliers), except for the late rumors.

We love Apple’s secrecy when it comes to announcing new products and refreshes.  After all, when chatter is just that, sites like ours are happy to speculate. And, our readers are quick to leave comments. However, the iPhone 4 release begs this question:

Is Apple’s secrecy starting to cost it precious respect in the marketplace?

Consider this: When Apple showed off its first generation iPhone, the first time the world saw the device was when Steve Jobs held it up at a keynote in January 2007. Until then (besides the occasional rumor about an Apple Phone), the public saw nothing of the device.

This year, however, two iPhone 4’s were found ‘in the wild’ months before its official release in June. When Jobs “officially” showed off the fourth generation iPhone at WWDC, most of us thought the following: Yep, its the same one that went wild!

Since then, the company has dealt with antenna issues, class action lawsuits and now concern that its iOS 4 doesn’t run properly on the iPhone 3G.

On each of these issues, Apple has appeared stubborn, evasive and on the defensive.

I’m not concerned about the possibility that Apple’s secrecy in releasing new products is weakening. Rumors and leaks are fun and exciting to read about and to cover as a writer. However, I am concerned that because of the company’s secrecy, its consumers are left to wonder what, if anything, the company is hiding when problems occur.

The iPhone 4 is a study in how not to release a product. First, once both iPhone 4’s were found prior to its release, rather than threatening (and bringing charges against those involved), the company might have been best served in admitting that the phones found were in fact real. Second, when the first report of possible antenna problems were made public, blaming the messenger was not the answer.

Additionally, is anyone else concerned that the introduction of the (then expensive, now free) Bumpers at the same time as the radically different iPhone 4 looks bad in hindsight? Apple released three previous generations of the iPhone and never once debuted fancy cases at the same time! If putting expensive rubber next to the lower half of an iPhone 4 eliminated a problem, isn’t it strange that said rubber was sold beginning on the same day? Yeah, there was no problem!

Believe me, if anyone asks, I am as close to an Apple “fanboy” as anyone out there. Perhaps because of this, I raise the red flags. The last thing I want to see happen is for Apple to make the same mistakes that cost Microsoft a decade ago. Through many product disasters (Windows Me, Windows Vista), Microsoft was smeared in the marketplace. Today, its image remains plagued and its competitors are increasingly emboldened.

Perhaps what we are seeing has less to do with Apple getting sloppy, then the public noticing more. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that Apple was more boutique and less mainstream. Today, with its products selling like hot cakes, naturally more eyeballs are looking for mistakes and regretfully, they are finding them.

Whether they want to or not, Apple needs to recognize its ever-growing footprint and change how it deals with the public. In not doing so, Apple could find itself losing support whether or not its products remain good or not. After all, Apple’s surge in popularity is because of the masses heading towards its products. Every customer is not a fanboy.

I, for one, continue to love Apple’s products and plan on purchasing one of the new iMacs soon. But, I only do so because I remain convinced that Apple makes the best technology products on the planet. However, a few more iPhone 4-like introduction snafus could change my, and others opinions.

[Photo: The Daily Beast]