Tuesday, April 20, 2010
17. iphone 4.0 lost and found, controversy abound
lately there have been stories floating around the interwebs about how the guys over at gizmodo got their hands on a prototype for the iphone 4.0, which should sound very strange to anyone who knows anything about apple - since their new products have more pre-release security than the pope on a state visit.
the story revolves around one gray powell (sorry gray, for adding one more hit when people google you), an apple engineer who works on apple's baseband software, who was out on the night of march 18th to celebrate his birthday in redwood city. he was carrying one of the iphone 4.0 prototypes, disguised in quite the clever iphone 3gs shell to deter onlookers from looking on, for the purposes of some sort of field testing. after having a few, as those who celebrate birthdays generally do, he even updated his facebook status on the prototype - "i underestimated how good german beer is." in his defense, he's correct, german beer is quite good.
before i continue, a short aside - above i alluded that apple's prototype secrets and in house security were at near-vatican levels. steve job's OCD over intellectual property is well known industry wide, but allow me to elaborate - according to a business week report last month regarding the ipad, devices had to be physically locked down to a fixed object and stored in rooms with blacked out windows, for starters. business partners have no choice but to provide photographic evidence of this to do business with apple. and they are just as strict, if not moreso, on programs designed to prevent, detect, and deal with leaks. as opposed to some companies that use controlled leaks to gradually generate buzz about a product, apple relies on complete secrecy, using the shroud of mystery to generate huge buzz on release day. that said, a leak could destroy an entire marketing campaign.
now back to the story of young mr. powell. all of the stonewalls and secrecy surrounding apple aren't able to do much when prototypes are left just sitting around. yes, as the popular nursery rhyme goes, all the king's horses and all the king's men, couldn't stop someone from throwing back some hefeweizen and leaving an iphone prototype on a barstool. no? well for the purposes of this post, that's how it went. so after leaving the beergarden, sans iphone, a "random really drunk guy" finds it and hands it to someone else, who attempts to contact apple to return the device (to no avail) and finally - and this is where it gets a bit hazy - sells it to gizmodo's parent company for anywhere between $5,000 to $10,000 depending on the source, resulting in their exclusive reveal of the iphone 4.0 to the world.
now here's a twist to the whole story - before i read this story on gizmodo, engadget had released possible iphone 4.0 photos, claiming that a prototype was found on the floor in a bar in san jose. then it was reported as a hoax, and then a chinese knock-off, and back and forth until a fuzzy picture of an old ipad leak emerged and was used as proof to show it was indeed the new iphone. what??
gizmodo was actually able to get a hold of gray on the phone, reporting that he sounded "tired" and "broken," but at least he still had his job at apple. the tired and broken part sounds about right. knowing how obsessive steve jobs is about prototypes, leaks, and intellectual property, i'm guessing he must have put him through the wringer personally. gizmodo maintains that they had no idea it was an apple prototype, but apple confirmed by eventually sending them a notice, in writing, claiming that the unit is apple property and they would like it to be returned. i guess that's proof that theirs was real, and not some cheap knock-off.
so who knows what the hell is going on. either:
(a) apple gave multiple protoypes out and two coincidentally happened to be lost in an almost identical way
(b) gizmodo and engadget are in cahoots
(c) one's trying to keep up with the other
(d) apple has switched up their entire marketing strategy and has cooked up this whole damn thing.
is it too late now that the world has seen it? is apple going to let the design proceed as scheduled or start over to maintain the mystery? you be the judge.
consolidated for your convenience:
complete gizmodo coverage here
engadget photos here and their proof here