What lessons can be learned from Apple's supposed loss of an iPhone prototype, besides, "Never let one of your software engineers get smashed and accidentally leave a prototype on a bar stool?"
If the device reportedly found in a German beer garden north of San Jose, Calif., and carefully dissected by tech blog Gizmodo April 19, has the same hardware features as the final version of the next-generation iPhone, then Apple is joining much of the rest of the tech industry in seeing video conferencing and social networking as the future for both consumers and business.
That's because the device contains not only a large camera on its back, but also what Gizmodo described as a "front-facing video chat camera." To at least one analyst, that can only mean one thing.
"We think Apple will spice up the [next] iPhone announcement with services that leverage its front-facing video camera," Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, wrote in an April 21 research note. "There is a market opportunity for a network platform for video social networking, gaming and conferencing that Apple could address with its distinctive software and design capabilities."
Gottheil added, "By providing critical applications and a platform for third-party development, Apple could create a compelling and very sticky subscription service."
An emphasis on video would dovetail neatly with Apple's building of a massive data center in Maiden, N.C. The sheer size of that facility, reportedly encompassing 500,000 square feet, suggests that the company is gearing up for an extremely data-intensive set of initiatives-such as streaming video for large numbers of users.
Other reported features of what the media has taken to calling the "iPhone 4G," including the higher-resolution display, smaller battery and secondary mic for noise cancellation, all seem like the natural evolution of the device. The use of a Micro-SIM could be in the interest of design and space. On the software side of things, Apple's upcoming iPhone OS 4 will include multitasking, something that previous versions of the device have lacked, and a way for Apple to better compete with the multitasking-friendly Google Android operating system.
One question that lingers about the whole affair is how a top-secret device, designed by a company that reportedly rivals the CIA in security and paranoia, managed to end up on a beer-soaked barstool in the first place. The incongruity of that event, of course, led many in the online community to opine-loudly-that the whole "loss" was deliberately staged by Apple in order to generate buzz months before the next iPhone's release.
That would be out of character for Apple, which has a reputation for revealing devices only through carefully controlled events. One blogger with connections at Apple wrote that the iPhone's escape into the wild was simply a case of colossally bad luck and nothing more.
"Starting a few weeks ago, some number of iPhone engineers, who because of the nature of their work were already familiar with the details of Apple's next-generation iPhone, were authorized to begin using late preproduction units outside of Apple's campus," wrote John Gruber, who runs the Apple-centric blog Daring Fireball. "Strict provisos govern such units. They must remain in cases designed to render them indistinguishable, at a glance, from an (encased) iPhone 3G/3GS. Such units are not allowed to be demonstrated or revealed to anyone."
Gruber said he believes, based on the "N90_DVT_GE4X_0493" barcode attached to the infamous unit, that Gizmodo dissected a version of the smartphone very close to the finished product: "'DVT' stands for 'design verification test,' an Apple production milestone," Gruber wrote in an April 22 post. "The DVT milestone is very late in the game; based on this, I now believe that this unit very closely, if not exactly, resembles what Apple plans to release."
No word has leaked about what may happen to the Apple software engineer who reportedly lost the device. However, Lufthansa is offering him a free business-class ticket to Munich, according to an open letter from the airline published on Gawker, where presumably he can drown his sorrows in more beer.