Apple's unplanned iPhone debut

The intriguing case of an an iPhone 4G prototype that was allegedly lost — "stolen"? — at a California bar and ended up in the hands of a tech blogger

Apple's new iPhone leaked to tech site Gizmodo Monday.
(Image credit: Gizmodo)

Apple's fourth iteration iPhone wasn't schedule to make its official debut until later this year, but the world apparently got an unplanned peek at the gadget on Monday. Tech blog Gizmodo has posted photos and video of a iPhone 4G prototype allegedly left behind in a Redwood City, CA, bar by a software engineer at the notoriously secretive tech company. While plenty of hoaxsters have claimed to possess unreleased Apple products, tech experts are nearly unanimous in the opinion that Gizmodo's specimen is the real deal. Here, the details on the purportedly lost-and-found iPhone 4G:

How can we be so sure this isn't a hoax?

In addition to a long list of design and technical factors that support the phone's authenticity, Apple has contacted Gizmodo's editors and requested that they return the device. If it's a hoax, Steve Jobs would seemingly have to be in on it — an unlikely scenario, to say the least.

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What new features does the new iPhone have?

Whereas older versions of the iPhone have just one, flashless camera, the 4G apparently has two cameras — one on the front for video calls, and an improved model on the back, featuring a flash and larger lens. In addition to some technical and cosmetic changes, this iPhone also has a larger battery and a ceramic-like back panel that experts believe will improve cellular reception.

Does it look different?

Yes, but only slightly. "The new phone looks more like the iPad" than older iPhone models, says Brier Dudley in The Seattle Times, "with a squared and beveled metal border" that resembles the industrial design of the iMac. The back is flat, unlike the rounded contours of the iPhone 3G/3GS.

Who "lost" the phone?

According to Gizmodo, a 27-year-old Apple engineer named Gray Powell left the device behind on a barstool after his birthday party at the Gourmet Haus Staudt beer garden in Redwood City. The establishment is located about 20 miles away from Apple headquarters.

How did Gizmodo gain possession of the device?

A still-anonymous party allegedly ended up with the iPhone after Powell left it behind at the bar. After a period of week — what happened in the meantime remains murky — Gizmodo bought the device for $5,000, reports the Associated Press. The identity of the person who picked up the phone, and the details of how he or she came into contact with Gizmodo, have not been made public. Some commentators have suggested that the device is "stolen property," and that Gawker Media — the parent company of Gizmodo — could face legal consequences for purchasing it.

Will Apple take legal action?

In theory, Apple could press charges against whoever sold the phone and against Gawker Media for trafficking in stolen merchandise. But, says Charles Arthur in the Guardian, "it's looking unlikely that Apple will pursue" that course of action.

Sources: Gizmodo (2) (3), AP, Guardian, Seattle Times, Daring Fireball

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