Next-Gen iPhone Found in Bar: Tech Community Goes Crazy

by Matt Klassen on April 21, 2010

To say that Apple is secretive is like saying the Nazis were evil, a statement so obvious that it doesn’t even need to be said. With even the regular tech-loving public pouring over every morsel and tidbit of information released by the company, stumbling upon an unreleased Apple prototype  just lying around is like discovering buried treasure; it’s both thrilling and implausible at the same time.

So our story begins in a bar in Redwood City, California, where it seems that Apple software engineer Gray Powell made the honest mistake of forgetting his state of the art prototype iPhone while enjoying several pints of quality German lager. Then, thanks to some sharp-eyed technophiles drunken journey to the bar room floor, the tech site Gizmodo purchased Gray Powell’s stolen phone, disassembled it, and posted the specs for all to see; the results of which have whipped the entire tech world into a frenzy that rivals that of pre-teen girls at a Justin Bieber concert.

Who says excessive drinking doesn’t have benefits?

But I know what you’re saying, it’s seem implausible that some German beer loving Apple software engineer would simply drop an actual next-gen iPhone at a bar, only to have it scooped up and shipped off to the popular tech site Gizmodo for dissection and analysis. Well, I’m here to tell you, while it certainly seems implausible, it’s no joke.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear in the very near future that Gray Powell met with some unfortunate software related incident that somehow left him with two broken thumbs and bashed knee caps (or one that left him in the unemployment line). That’s just what you get when you break Steve Job’s circle of trust.

What Gizmodo techs have discovered in their week-long controlled demolition of Powell’s prototype is that when it’s released in summer the new iPhone will sport a new front-facing video chat camera, a significantly upgraded backside camera (w/ a flash), and a dazzling higher-resolution display. In addition, with the phone’s exterior getting a touch up and buttons replacing the volume rocker switch on the side, it looks like the improvements to the phone are more than skin deep.

Amidst all this, however, I remain thoroughly disappointed in Gizmodo and the tech community. Sure it’s nice to scoop all the other tech sites around the world with this latest discovery, but let’s be honest about how Gizmodo came upon this information; someone found a phone in a bar, they stole it, they sold it to Gizmodo who unsuccessfully tried to hack into it, and after a while they tore it to pieces to see what the insides looked like.

For me, these actions aren’t those of motivated tech bloggers and journalists, but of creepy technophile psychopaths who shed all semblance of common decency in order to satiate their appetite for the latest tech news. Honestly, I find it deplorable. But then again, I am writing about it.

The trouble for Gizmodo may not stop there, however. While both Apple and the unfortunate Gray Powell remain tight-lipped about the whole situation, Apple-insider John Gruber, of Daring Fireball fame, states that Apple has indeed lost a prototype, and that they most likely consider it stolen. If the latter is true, it would be nice for the crazy techies at Gizmodo to find themselves drowning in a sea of industrial espionage litigation, a welcome addition to the story that I would certainly write more on.

But for now, while I will admit that there’s some excitement that accompanies any leaked information from the company that usually keeps its secrets guarded tighter than Fort Knox, I’m certainly disappointed at Gizmodo’s shameless foray into tabloid journalism, and I can only hope that their underhanded tactics blow up in their faces…or to discover that it was all just a hoax hatched from the dark and disturbed mind of Steve Jobs. We’ll have to wait and see.

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Jordan Richardson April 21, 2010 at 8:53 am

Getting scoops is what journalism is all about, though, regardless of the morality of the source. You might find it deplorable, but what Gizmodo did was pretty standard fare in their industry. If they didn’t scoop it, somebody else would have.

Plus, you can see from the story that the guy who found the lost device not only waited at the bar to see if Powell would come back but actually called “a lot of Apple numbers” to try to get in touch with the right people. Also, the phone had been bricked (wiped) remotely and was pretty much a dead object. Quoting from the Gizmodo article: “No one took him seriously and all he got for his troubles was a ticket number.”

What’s deplorable is that Apple didn’t seem to even care or take the loss of the phone seriously. Any journalist, any newspaper, any organization would have published the information and checked out the product if offered to them. It isn’t as though Gizmodo stole the iPhone and it isn’t as though Apple couldn’t have reached out to the organization/blog with an NDA to button them up. They dropped the ball and should have known better and Gizmodo’s “tactics” are completely warranted.

Matt Klassen April 21, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Robert Powell, father of the unfortunate fellow that lost the prototype iPhone, had strong opinions about the person who found the phone “The bottom line is the guy stole the phone,” he said. “The guy’s a thief.”

I, for one, happen to agree with Mr. Powell. The phone was stolen, Gizmodo knew it was stolen and purchased it anyways. I wouldn’t call those actions “completely warranted,” since the very fact that they’re illegal calls the warrant of their actions into question. Would someone else have scooped the story? Probably, but then I’d be writing about their underhanded and illegal acts.

In the normal course of things, I believe common decency would dictate that when you find something lost in a public place, you do at least the bare minimum to see it returned to its rightful owner….Journalists and drunk technophiles included.

Jordan Richardson April 21, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Seems to me that Robert Powell needs to change his definition of the word “theft,” then. Nothing was stolen from his son and, while I understand the indignation of someone putting his son’s name out there in an embarrassing fashion, his position doesn’t really put his name in much credibility.

The phone was left behind in a restaurant, the person who found it waited around for the owner and spent a considerable amount of time attempting to contact Apple to return it. When Apple didn’t take him seriously, he moved on. Gizmodo, as you can see from the article, attempted to return the phone as well. No avail. His ticket number was never called by Apple. The phone didn’t get into Gizmodo’s hands until weeks later. The phone was bricked, locked out.

So where’s the theft?

Does it mean it’s theft when I find a wallet in a shopping centre, try to locate the owner through every reasonable means possible, take the wallet to customer service only to have them have no interest in finding the owner, and eventually decide to take the damned thing home? Seems a stretch, even in the legal sense.

The reason this is such a stretch is that lost or mislaid property is at the core of this, not “stolen” property. The iPhone was not stolen from the possession of Powell by any stretch of the imagination. Powell lost the property and it came into the possession of someone else, thus the someone else is enabled by law to lay claim to the item against any person except the true owner. The goal of these laws is to hopefully return the property to the rightful owner, which again is the process that the finder of the iPhone went through.

If the property was considered to be mislaid, the finder of the iPhone probably should have left it with the owner of the establishment. But the difference between lost and mislaid property all depends on the intent of Powell and he hasn’t really shown his face in public, probably due to, as you say, his two broken thumbs.

It also seems that the finder of the iPhone did much more than just the “bare minimum” to return the lost product. I’d also argue that common sense would dictate not going out for a drunken evening with friends when packing a new, snazzy, secretive prototype in your ass pocket. But that’s just me.

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