Apple Wants 'iPhone 4G' Device Returned

Apple has asked tech blog Gizmodo to return what online reports are calling a prototype of the iPhone 4G, which appeared in the wild after supposedly being lost in a bar near San Jose, Calif., Daring Fireball's John Gruber says Apple considers the device stolen. If the device proves authentic, then the next iPhone will include a front-facing video chat camera, a larger back-camera with flash, support for Micro-SIM instead of standard SIM and a higher-resolution display. The iPhone 4G was running Apple's upcoming iPhone OS 4.0, according to Gizmodo's source, before being remotely shut down.

Whether or not the smartphone prototype found in a California bar turns out to be Apple's next iPhone, a letter between Apple's general counsel and tech blog Gizmodo seems to confirm that the device did indeed originate in Apple's labs.

"It has come to our attention that Gizmodo is currently in possession of a device that belongs to Apple," Bruce Sewell, senior vice president and general counsel for Apple, wrote in an April 19 letter to Brian Lam, Gizmodo's editorial director, that was posted on the blog. "This letter constitutes a formal request that you return the device to Apple. Please let me know where to pick up the unit."

According to Gizmodo, the unit in question was discovered at Gourmet Haus Staudt, a German beer garden north of San Jose. Its alleged owner-at least, before he left it on a bar stool-was an Apple software engineer named Gray Powell.

From there, the device managed to find its way into the hands of Gizmodo's reporters; Nick Denton, who owns Gizmodo parent Gawker Media, appeared to suggest in an April 19 Tweet that money had been exchanged for what many online reports are calling the iPhone 4G: "Yes, we're proud practitioners of checkbook journalism. Anything for the story!"

Even as that story developed, there was an assumption among tech reporters that Gizmodo had paid cash for the device, which was originally hidden inside an iPhone 3G casing.

"It's been an open secret to those of us in the racket that Gizmodo purchased this unit about a week ago, from those who claimed to [have found] it," John Gruber wrote on his Apple-centric Daring Fireball blog on April 17. "That this belongs to and was made by Apple is almost beyond question at this point. Just how much it looks like what Apple plans to ship this summer, I don't know. Note that it's thinner than a 3GS."

Gruber continued: "Note that I did not use the word 'lost.' It is my understanding that Apple considers this unit stolen, not lost. And as for the 'someone(s)' who 'found' it, I believe it is disingenuous for Gizmodo to play coy, as though they don't know who the someones are."

According to Gizmodo's April 19 breakdown, new features in the iPhone 4G include a "front-facing video chat camera," a larger "back-camera" with flash, support for "Micro-SIM instead of standard SIM," a higher-resolution display, "split buttons for volume" and "what looks to be a secondary mic for noise cancellation, at the top, next to the headphone jack."

The alleged iPhone 4G also has a slightly smaller screen than the 3GS, a 16-percent-larger battery and miniaturized internal components. One particularly interesting detail is the backing, which is apparently made from material that could be "glass (more likely) or ceramic or shiny plastic"-all the better to receive a cell signal.

"Tapping on the back makes a more hollow and higher-pitched sound compared to tapping on the glass on the front/screen," Gizmodo's Jason Chen wrote, "but that could just be the orientation of components inside making for a different sound."

The iPhone 4G was supposedly running Apple's upcoming iPhone OS 4.0, at least until it was bricked remotely. Gizmodo said a PC recognizes the device as an iPhone when plugged in.

Engadget, meanwhile, has compared images it received of the supposed iPhone 4G against those leaked from an Apple test lab earlier in 2010, finding a match between those images and a blurry device seen in the lab photos.

For those who would doubt that a prototype device produced by one of the most secretive companies on the planet would somehow find its way onto the beer-soaked floorboards of a random watering hole, well, that currently appears to be the case here. And unless this whole incident turns out to be an enormous attempt at misdirection on Apple's part, that device's escape into the wild suggests that a certain Gray Powell could be in a lot of trouble right about now.