2010 in Tech: Gray Powell

by Jordan Richardson on December 30, 2010

From Julian Assange to Steve Jobs, the tech world’s celebrities were certainly front and centre in 2010. In the case of one Gray Powell, however, his celebrity status is something that the Apple engineer may wish to give back.

Powell will forever be known as the dude who lost the next-gen iPhone prototype and his tale of woe puts a human face on the secretive enterprise of big tech products.

Powell’s road to renown began simply enough. As an Apple engineer, Powell was tasked with working on the iPhone Baseband Software, a program that enables the iPhone unit to make calls because, amazingly enough, iPhones are still phones. Our intrepid engineer was enjoying beverages on March 18 in Rosewood, California. He was at a little place called Gourmet Haus Staudt and was celebrating his birthday. So far, so good.

Powell had in his possession a prototype for the much-anticipated iPhone 4. It was “disguised” as an iPhone 3GS.

Powell’s critical error came when he left the iPhone 4 prototype behind in the establishment. It was picked up by one Brian Hogan. Hogan was doing the exact same thing as Powell that fateful March night and, in the middle of having a few dastardly drinks, he happened upon the iPhone 4 left behind by Mr. Powell. Uh-oh.

What Hogan did next put Powell in the middle of a media firestorm, sending tech geeks everywhere a-Twitter with a flurry of emotions. The “finder” of the iPhone 4 asked around, but the device wasn’t claimed. He waited around for Powell, but Powell didn’t come back. He played around with the iPhone 4, not realizing that it was an iPhone 4.

The 21-year-old Redwood resident tinkered with the phone and eventually discovered that it had been “bricked” by Apple. He opened the phone, called some numbers, tried to contact Apple, and sold it to Gizmodo. We all know how that turned out, $5,000 and all. He later said he regretted not doing more to turn the phone in.

The story was huge and confusing, like the Lost finale.

Apple’s incredibly impenetrable security with respect to new products is the stuff of various long and surprisingly sexy legends and the press had a field day imagining a steamed and pacing Jobs blowing more than a few gaskets. Debates over the nature of the “finding” of the iPhone 4 prototype also took place, with more passion and fire involved than almost any other non-Bieber discussion this year. Was it “theft?” Was it a case of “finders keepers?” Is Powell chained up in a dungeon somewhere?

In the end, the world didn’t end on March 18 for Gray Powell and Apple didn’t lose out either. The iPhone 4 picked up more publicity through the ordeal, which led to speculation that the story was a sham from the outset. We may never actually know the real story behind Powell, Hogan, Gizmodo, and the iPhone 4 prototype left on a barstool. And we may never want to know.

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Written by: Jordan Richardson. www.digitcom.ca >. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com > by: RSS >, Twitter >, Identi.ca >, or Friendfeed >

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