There's a fictional trope where a cop is accused of corruption, leading to a high-stakes battle to clear his or her name. The stakes are high because, if the accusation sticks, all the cases the cop worked on are now open to challenge.

I've been thinking about this trope lately because of Jon Prosser.

If you don't know the name (Macworld US's profile is a good place to start) Prosser has been round the tech leaks/analysis scene for years, doing his thing on YouTube and Twitter. In the past he mostly focused on Samsung and Google but more recently he's started to talk about Apple, and done it well. He's funny, and seems like a nice guy, which helps.

The big breakthrough hit was the iPhone SE (2020). On 31 March he predicted this would be unveiled on 15 April, and it was. That got people's attention, and accurate comments related to new iPads and MacBooks cemented the idea that despite the toilet jokes he was an analyst worth listening to. They should have named him Prosstradamus because his predictions were so uncannily accurate, but it seems nobody thought of that, until me, far too late.

In consequence, everything Prosser says is now news. He's made several big announcements since - most notably the iPhone 12 specs dump and the Apple Glass extravaganza - and these have been lapped up and reproduced throughout the blogosphere, including here.

The problem came in June, at WWDC 2020. This is one of the two biggest events in the Apple calendar, second only - perhaps - to iPhone launch night in autumn, so masses of interest attended Prosser's comments ahead of the keynote. Would he dazzle us again with laser-guided leaks?

Not exactly. Four days before WWDC, Prosser posted this tweet:

To his eternal credit, at time of writing he hasn't deleted it - he actually quote-tweeted it ruefully on the night - but if it has disappeared by the time you read this, know that it simply says "iPhone OS".

Apple did not change the name of iOS to iPhoneOS at WWDC 2020.

Based on Prosser's comments since (among other things, he briefly changed his Twitter bio to "Tim found my software source"), it sounds like he might have been played by Apple. Perhaps the company began to suspect who his source was, and fed that person misinformation, in the manner used - if you'll forgive a Game of Thrones analogy - by Tyrion Lannister to discover that Grand Maester Pycelle was feeding information to Queen Cersei. It's a win-win for Apple: it finds and can presumably fire the source, and discredits an annoying leaker.

Craig Federighi at WWDC 2020

I want to emphasise that I'm surmising here (somewhat hypocritically, in an article about unreliable predictions), and I don't know what went wrong with the system in this case, or if he's joking about the source. Prosser has said elsewhere that he refrains from publishing until he has confirmation from multiple sources, which would appear to insulate him from Lannister-style mole hunts; maybe this one was too juicy to ignore.

But it does raise doubts about the process, and inevitably we are all going through our Prosser-sourced rumour articles and wondering how well they now stand up. His standing has suffered: at the start of June we published an article comparing the reliability of the leading Apple leakers and at the time, Apple Track's leaderboard ranked Prosser in third place for reliability, with 86.7% accuracy. At time of writing he's down in sixth with 78.4%. That's quite a fall, although bear in mind that because he's posted a relatively small number of predictions, a few misses affect his percentage more than most.

(It's perhaps apt that he now ranks below OnLeaks, one of the most famous leakers before Prosser's rapid ascent. OnLeaks was not slow to gloat about the WWDC missteps.)

Like our accused TV cop, things that seemed innocent or sensible at the time are now seen in a different light. As a writer and presenter Prosser has a tendency to predictive caution: he sometimes says that something might happen and might not, like the ProMotion screens on the iPhone 12 Pro models, or gives two different dates for a release announcement, like Apple Glass, or says "Might be wrong about this one. Would love to be wrong!" Maybe he's being honest about the facts that are out there, and hey, I'm a natural equivocator myself. But maybe he just doesn't know and wants to give himself a get-out clause.

Apple leaking remains the hardest game in town, and I think we should all try to go easy on a guy doing his best; I also think Prosser is still worth listening to, because he clearly has an enviable roster of sources and the profile to attract more. But the next few announcements are going to be critical. If the all-important (and very detailed) iPhone 12 predictions turn out to be accurate, then my daring prediction is that all will be forgiven. If the Apple Glass stuff is right, he'll be back on the pedestal.

The question is this: was the iPhoneOS error an anomaly, as it feels at the moment, or is it possible that the accurate predictions were the anomaly, and Jon Prosser is actually blundering along like the rest of us, occasionally getting something right through sheer luck or the assistance of a timely email? The rest of 2020 will give us a better idea.