Unless you’ve been completely off the grid in the last few days, you’ll have heard all about the iPhone 4G prototype that was left in a bar in Redwood City, California. The phone was found and subsequently sold to Gizmodo.com for $5,000. Gizmodo, a massive gadget news site, who’s posts frequently top 10,000 hits in a few hours, had to turn off their comment system because they were getting such a hammering.
The question that most people are asking is, is this the new iPhone?
Well, it’s looking like it is at least a late prototype. According to Gizmodo, the phone belonged to a certain Gray Powell, an Apple engineer. They claim to know this based on the fact that his Facebook account was set up on the device. Secondly, the phone was contained in a specially made plastic case which made it look like an iPhone 3GS, so people wouldn’t spot it was an unreleased device. Thirdly, when taken apart, many of the components are Apple branded. Finally, and most damning is, Gizmodo have reported that they received a letter from Apple looking for their device back.
All that sounds pretty much tightly wrapped up, case closed. Some people however, are skeptical.
From the outset, I’ll state that I think it’s real, but it could be fake.
There are a few reasons for this. The only source we have on this is Gizmodo. They could be making it up. They could have a Chinese knock off iPhone that they are touting as the real deal. The problem with this is that the build quality looks great, and not cheap. Also, the Internet as a whole is great at debunking scams, and I reckon we’d have heard someone cry shenanigans by now if it was a Chinese fake.
Something that many people have an issue with is that the design doesn’t look very Apple like. A friend of mine Charles Doyle called it “pretty crappy” and disappointing. This point is pretty ridiculous, I think it’s much nicer than any iPhone before it, but then again, I’m a fan of industrial design. Just because it’s more of a change than the iPhone -> iPhone 3G doesn’t mean it’s not Apple designed.
All in all, it seems like this thing is legit. From first glance, it seems that the mighty Apple, famed for their secrecy, have made a huge blunder. This leads us to the next question. Is it a PR stunt?
No. No it’s not a PR stunt. Lets look at this objectively. PR stunts are done to generate buzz and interest in a product. This is Apple we’re talking about. People camp out to buy their products. They’re not a company who needs something like this to generate buzz. Apply Occam’s Razor here people, conspiracy theories are attractive, but this one doesn’t make any sense.
Another strange point about this saga is the way that Gizmodo are handling the coverage. Instead of keeping quiet about their source and just reporting on the device, they have posted a series of posts discussing the employee who lost the phone in detail, which is a little puzzling. Why do we care if it was Grays birthday when he lost the phone?
It makes sense when you think it through, and Gizmodo have likely saved Mr. Powells job. Considering the strict policy of secrecy present in the Apple ethos, as demonstrated by alleged suicides at Chinese manufacturers, it’s likely that Gray isn’t Steve Jobs favorite person in the world at the moment. By very publicly identifying the employee, ironically Gizmodo have protected him. If Apple fire the employee in question now, they will be in for a shitstorm of bad publicity.
What will be interesting now is to follow what Apple does from this point onwards, if this is real, and every sign points to it being genuine, it is a very late prototype. Prototypes don’t make it out of the lab until they are almost feature complete. Apple will have to acknowledge the leak, and how they react will show us a lot about how Apple work. If you know anyone who works for Apples PR team, don’t expect to see them out of the office in the next week. Balls in your court Steve, your move.