Jacqui Cheng, of Ars Technica goes mythbusting:
“Apple Makes New Employees Work on Fake Products Until Apple Can Trust Them”, blared a headline—and many others like it—last January. In the Apple-watching world, it has since become common wisdom that the company assigns new engineers to “fake” projects in order to test their loyalty—that is, their propensity to leak—before giving them actual work. […]
But is it true? I was prompted to look into the question after several friends—Apple employees, no less—expressed disbelief at the claim. Their skepticism matched my own experience; in my years of reporting on Apple and speaking to many of its employees, I had never heard of such a practice. When I sought answers by interviewing current and former Apple engineers, I found that “fake” projects are certainly not a regular occurrence at Apple—and they quite probably do not exist at all.
This article lends credibility to this rumour from 2004:
The device, code-named ‘Q97’ or ‘Asteroid,’ has been under development at the company for the better part of the year. Typically referred to as a ‘breakout box’ in the music recording industry, the external audio device attaches to a computer and offers audio inputs and outputs for attaching instruments or other audio sources. Apple is reportedly building the device around GarageBand, its popular application for aspiring musicians.
Not only did this product seem unlikely, but it was the first time I can remember hearing about “fake” projects inside Apple. Anne Onymus:
What if, rather than creating Asteroid as a real product, the aim of the Asteroid Project was to destroy the rumor sites? All Apple would have to do is assign a few people to developing a semi-viable product be sure to include a “mole” on the team, and have this individual deliberately leak project information to the sites Apple wanted to put out of business.
This always sounded far too conspiratorial to me. Asteroid always seemed like an experimental project, like their current television and smart watch groups.