So how do Steve Jobs' e-mails really get written?

Boy Genius Report is now claiming that all the latest Steve Jobs e-mails it published about the iPhone 4 are real. But could it be that they were written by a PR person? Or even an algorithm?

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

I need to share a secret with you.

Many of the baseball bats autographed by famous sluggers weren't. Many of the footballs autographed by famous quarterbacks with a gunner's arm were autographed by the arm of a hired gun. And as for Brad Pitt drawing a self-portrait on that napkin? That might have been Brad the bulbous busboy.

So for all the understandable teeth-chattering and keyboard-clicking about whether Steve Jobs really wrote a couple of e-mails about the iPhone 4 to some clearly delightful chap in Richmond, Va., how much does it matter?

In one sense, of course this is vital. This is Apple, and the mere idea that Steve Jobs would sit in his Eames chair at two in the morning and send pithy e-mails about porn to a tipsy scribe sends many interesting and positive signals about the Apple brand.

Equally, the mere fact that he would field e-mails from upset iPhone 4 customers, after their egos had become impaled on their antennas, might signify that there is huge consternation within the company. It might be seen like a message from above, or, at least, from somewhere south of the Golden Gate Bridge. It might really mean something.

You should only give your customers so much Face Time. CC BENM.AT.LIVE COVERAGE/Flickr

It may well be that Jobs really does reply to all these e-mails, despite Apple's denials in this case.

However, given that seemingly every other e-mail sent from the sjobs@apple.com address has been published by its wily, enthusiastic recipients, perhaps someone at Apple has noticed that this e-mail thing has become just another medium.

Perhaps someone has said to themselves that there is capital to be gained by penning impromptu-sounding replies to random customers whose e-mails have, well, some kind of extra meaning.

These aren't e-mails so much as they are PR releases, ads, messages of intent, goodwill, and customer service.

The most difficult thing about imagining the Apple CEO going through the no doubt thousands of e-mails sent to him every day is imagining him deciding which ones deserve a reply.

Does he choose funny last names? Or amusing headlines? Does he prefer the angry (additional challenge)? Or the flattering (additional love)? Or does he simply close his eyes, poke at his iPad screen and commit himself to answering the very one that his finger touches first?

Of course, there's the heinous thought that it isn't Jobs at all, that it's a PR person who has seen enough of Jobs' short, sharp missives as to be able to mimic the 15 or 20 syllables they generally entail.

Think of the sense of power that PR person must feel every time he or she sits down, sips a fine pinot, munches on a Kettle chip, and pretends that everyone, for once, is hanging on his or her every word.

How tempting it would for that PR person to put a little of his or herself into just one or two of the syllables. How exciting when the missive is actually sold for money, as this last e-mail exchange reportedly was.

But there is another potentially depressing thought.

What if people don't write Steve Jobs' published e-mails? What if, in a cozy chat with Eric Schmidt during his time on the Apple board, Google prepared a sweet little auto-response algorithm for Apple, one that reacted to certain words or phrases in customer e-mails and created perkily publishable auto-responses?

What if there's no one on the other end of these customer e-mails but a machine? Yes, an algorithm-inspired, semantically advanced PR machine.