updated 08:45 pm EDT, Mon April 19, 2010
iPhone HD left at bar in accident
Full details posted tonight have revealed that the next-generation iPhone's leak into blogger hands was the result of a simple accident. An Apple software engineer working on iPhone baseband firmware, Gray Powell, is said to have left his disguised phone at the Gourmet Haus Staudt in Redwood City where the still-unnamed discoverer found it. He purportedly waited for Powell to come back, but after the programmer didn't return, he ended up with the phone.
The owner's identity and significance were only discovered after checking the Facebook app, which was signed in, and finding a trio of mystery labels. It only worked briefly as, by the morning, it had been remotely wiped through MobileMe; the opportunity made the finder realize that the shell was a disguise and that this was a pre-release iPhone. Gizmodo allegedly paid up to $10,000 -- in what it says was "checkbook journalism" -- to obtain the phone weeks later.
Powell has been contacted and is aware of what's happened, but he "can't really talk too much right now." What discipline if any has been taken against him hasn't been discovered, but Gizmodo may have made arrangements to return the phone to Apple.
The discovery is an uncharacteristic breach of Apple's security but was potentially difficult for the company to avoid. As with most phones, the iPhone needs to be tested in actual conditions to gauge the effectiveness of the cellular connection for voice and data. While early testing can sometimes be done with generic "mule" phones, it eventually needs to test the real device to check interference. Security is typically looser at companies like Google, where the Nexus One was readily made public by employees and connections that hadn't been held to non-disclosure agreements.
Why the tech news site chose to return the phone only after breaking the story has already raised questions about the ethics of the breach, as it wasn't necessary to learn the owner's name before returning the prototype to Apple.