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The iPhone 4 Is Real: Anyone Buying the “Drunk Engineer” Story?

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By now, many of you will probably already know that Gizmodo actually got their hands on that iPhone prototype they’ve been reporting so heavily on, by paying $5,000 to someone who found the phone at a bar near Apple (s aapl) headquarters.

You may also know that Apple has asked for its return, which Gizmodo (and many others, myself included) are taking as evidence confirming that it is indeed the next iPhone. The story of how it was lost reads like something out of a movie in the Gizmodo account, even though many of us drunkenly lose our phones everyday and it obviously isn’t that dramatic of an experience.

Then again, we aren’t losing the prototype of a highly coveted device built by an incredibly secretive company. Which brings me to my next point. Is anyone buying that this guy (Gary Powell, an iPhone engineer working on the Baseband technology) actually just got drunk and forgot the thing on his bar stool?

I’m not an engineer working for Apple, and my phone is just a widely available 3GS and not the yet-to-be-released iPhone 4 or whatever it’ll be called, but that phone is also the last thing I’m likely to misplace. I’d sooner lose my wallet or my keys, in fact. But if it’s a plant, why go to such lengths to engineer a simple leak?

I think it may be as simple as the ante-upping nature of Apple’s hype machine. After the year or more lead up to the iPad’s unveiling, including photographic and video leaks, first-hand accounts from all kinds of sources, and the will-they or won’t-they ballet that went on for months and months, building a good head of buzz up around the next iPhone in the time remaining would be rather challenging using Apple’s conventional tactics. Many eyes are stuck firmly on the iPad and what’s next for it, and won’t be distracted by the usual grainy photographs.

A hands-on exclusive that conveniently makes its way to one of the most prominent and widely-read tech blogs operating on the web today is definitely one way to wrest the spotlight away from the iPad and back onto the iPhone, where Apple needs consumer attention to be come June. It may seem elaborate, but when you consider the cost of such a plan versus a widespread marketing campaign, and that Apple’s secretive-chocolate-factory reputation remains intact, it starts to seem very reasonable indeed.

Whatever the case, it looks like we know what the next iPhone will have in store. Here’s a quick rundown of the highlights in case you missed them:

  • Front-facing camera (almost certainly for video chat)
  • Separate volume buttons
  • Micro-SIM (like the iPad)
  • Better back camera and camera flash
  • Aluminum border with metallic buttons
  • Optical glass or ceramic back for improved signal reception
  • Slightly smaller, higher resolution screen
  • Secondary mic for noise cancellation
  • 16 percent larger battery

Gizmodo tore the phone down, too, and found out that the internals are all Apple production parts, which makes it incredibly unlikely that this isn’t the real thing. It remains to be seen whether or not the final production units that ship this summer will look exactly like this, but I think it’s safe to say we’ll see something pretty darn close.

The best part of the new design in my opinion? Not the industrial styling that brings it more in line with the current iMac and MacBook offerings, though that’s pretty awesome. No, it’s all the phone-oriented improvements Apple seems to be making. I’d never trade my iPhone in for anything, but I have to say that it hasn’t been the greatest cell phone I’ve ever had, in terms of strict telecommunications functions.

The new back for improved signal transmission, the second, noise-canceling mic, the larger battery and the front facing camera all point to this being the best iPhone yet for actual real-time communication, which is definitely something worth getting excited about.

51 Responses to “The iPhone 4 Is Real: Anyone Buying the “Drunk Engineer” Story?”

  1. When i got it deleved to the frount door and i have never had signal problems here in Australia using Telstra nextg umts 850 mhz i got 50 km from the closest cell phone tower and i could still get a very good stable phone call but i think they should have a plug for a antenna patch lead for use in a car for use with a glass mount or magnetic antenna to use on the roof and i used to be with optus 2.1 ghz and the signal dropped out all the time and these days cell phones don’t have patch leads like they used do

  2. I can’t say one way or the other whether or not apple may or may not have perpetrated the whole lost 4th gen iPhone as thing as a publicity stunt, or not.

    What I can say is after months of reading so much wishy washy garbage surrounding the new iphone based upon some one sided opinion, that is basically pure speculation stolen from some other person’s point of view.

    I dare say Sir you make at the very least a most pursuasive argument in favor of your opinion that was presented in a well thought out inteligent manor, and in the details of the phone itself at the very least you relied soley on fact, and not wants, or beliefs when referencing the new model specifically.

    As a 3GS owner I am extrememly fond of my phone but I dare say if the bank acco8unt allows for it sooner rather than later once it is available I will own one.

  3. I don’t know one Iphone owner who hasn’t lost their Iphone at least for a few minutes because it fell out of a pocket etc. Those Iphones should have a fly fishing clipper that recoils so you don’t leave it somewhere. Remember they have jackets in SanFrancisco with big pockets.

  4. I’m not even sure if it’s accidental or not. Apple has all sorts of tricks up their sleeve, and planting a leak like that could be one of them. Then again, it could be a complete accident and a real phone. Only time will tell.

    I do hope they do away with the curved back though.

  5. A rather obvious engineered leak (pun unintended).

    But this should be no surprise, as the hopeless media fall for this hook line and sinker. I mean, look at the pages of even this website – its littered with junk that I can only describe as thinly disguised apple adds masquerading as journalism.

    Any surprise then that Apple would do this? Nope.

    Note to the media: if you had enough commmon sense to make Apple pay for all the advertising that you are giving them for free, maybe you might be able to turn a profit. They certainly are making profits – while riding your back and playing you like patsies….

  6. I think I am one of the only ones who feels bad for Gray. I can honestly say that I do know him from when he worked for Sony / Ericsson in RTP in NC. He was always a good guy to work with and hate that all this has come down on him.

    Regardless if this is a PR stunt or not, it will still hurt his name. If it is a PR stunt, he will not be able to reveal that in the future.

    Also, the phone looks great. Fingers are crossed that it comes to Verizon sometime…

  7. peltedv

    Really? Wow, more conspiracy theory rhetoric. I really don’t see how so many people really buy this is some “plant” or “leak”. An average guy who is probably brighter than most of the folks around here was out letting off some stress and messed up bad. I’ve walked out of a bar with my phone sitting on the counter. I got half way out of the parking lot and realized it, and I was well under legal limits. This story of the Apple engineer is more plausible than all these crazy other theories. So you started this post with a question. Anyone Buying the “Drunk Engineer” Story? Yes, yes I am, because we are talking about real people and real lives. Apple tests their products in the real world. There are pictures of Steve walking around at a soccer game I believe with a pre released iPhone. It makes sense that engineers working fundamental aspects of connectivity would be using real hardware in real world situations. This poor kid just made a mistake, he probably should have left it at home before a night out on the town. But oh well.

    As for the looks of this thing. Damn I hope it is pre-release test unit. All these people clamoring all over the internet about how great this POS looks. To me, really it looks like some taiwan knock-off, or something Asus would make on a really good day. Was Jonathan Ive out sick when this made it through. It has some elements, but the seams, and the round buttons. Err…. Oh well.

  8. So, your thesis is that Apple would deliberately give away not only full specifications for and the components in an unreleased device, but by extension the BoM cost as well, in order to try to get a little PR buzz (which they scarcely need)?

    Sorry, the drunken engineer strikes as a lot more believable.

  9. Brian J

    great, so now we have another iPhone nearly as ugly as the 1G, and with glass on BOTH sides to break when it’s dropped. Brilliant. Can’t say I’m very impressed with this design, Apple. #fail

  10. So Gizmodo buys somebody’s lost phone and than takes it totally apart rather than returning it to them.


    Did they copy the micro card also?

    I would sue them. I don’t care if it is a beta phone, it is documented invasive thief!

    Hope they have good lawyers at Gizmodo, they will need them!

  11. wendell

    great post.

    i’m surprised more people aren’t asking the question. i’m positive it’s a deliberate plant. no one leaves their cell phone in a bar only to notice hours later that it’s gone.

    like rick collins said, why not use mobileme to find the phone as soon as you lost it? at the very least, lock the phone.

    it’s brilliant contrived marketing.

  12. This does seem like an extravagant way to leak info about the next iPhone, but as conspiracy theories go, I’ve seen worse. When you view it in the light of the Jesus-Android-Phone, the Droid Incredible, about to be released, and Microsoft’s Kin and Windows Phone 7 soon to hit, it could easily be seen as a not-so-subtle way of reminding people that the iPhone is still going to hold the crown.

    That theory raises to corollary questions, though. First, why not just leak info to the press instead of planting an actual phone. Well, at this point, rumors are rumors and I think people have been burned by a number of iPhone rumors before. How long now has it supposed to have had a front-facing camera? Second, why not just move up the official announcement? That one’s much easier. This way, Apple can ride the buzz from this sneak preview for a month or two and then have an official announcement that will generate even more buzz for longer.

    Now, it’s still debatable whether this was a plant or not, and I’m not sure myself. But, it’s not the craziest thing to imagine, for sure.

    @RICK COLLINS: It did have MobileMe or some Apple internal simulade. That’s what they used to remote fry it. Though that does raise an interesting question: why just fry it, when you could actually locate it and get it back? Maybe there is some truth in it being a controlled plant.

  13. Aiiskoplusaiist

    To be honest, I think it looks like a piece of crap. Nothing apple like about it. I bet they planted it there on purpose and the reveal a proper better one officially, or it’s just a model and the guy was just testing the better screen and os.

  14. Let’s hope this inadvertent exposure doesn’t cause Apple to change the final design just to spite us. I like the new iPhone, particularly its new shape and ceramic back. There’s nothing that I’d like to see changed except perhaps adding a micro-USB charging port.

  15. This is totally an engineered leak. Forget about the story around how Gizmodo got the device and look at Apple’s response: it’s the legal equivalent of “we can haz back nao? kthxbai!” No cease-and-desist order, no mention of Giz’s receipt of stolen property, nothing. From a company as litigious and secrecy-obsessed as Apple, that’s so unlikely a response as to be laughable. And Brian Lam’s return letter? Either he’s wink-wink-nudge-nudging at his readers, or he shouldn’t be allowed outside without adult supervision – that is not the way one responds to a formal letter from the general counsel (and senior VP!) of a multi-billion-dollar corporation. This is a plant – a fun and diverting plant, to be sure, but a plant nonetheless.

  16. quandmeme

    agree with post and agreed with comments except AT&T has been fine for me.

    It’ll be a new kind of keynote at WWDC without any surprises and oos and aahs. There is some mystery left in the details of megapixels and gigabytes, but none I anticipate in the way I use my phone.

    Using the home button will soon require morse code skills though, how many features can be stuffed into one button?

    My hope is more love at WWDC for OSX. Windows 7 is worth answering.

  17. I don’t believe the hole at the top is a second mic. Instead, I think it’s a release for the back (similar to the release for the sim tray). That would make it easy to replace the battery.

  18. I think this is also the best-looking iPhone so far… the curved back of the 3G and 3GS models wasn’t that great in my opinion.

    Hopefully they will release an unlocked version too, because I really don’t want to go with a contract from AT&T.