updated 08:00 am EDT, Thu April 22, 2010
New iPhone unlikely to change before launch
The escaped iPhone prototype is a late-stage model that very likely reflects the final design, some added insight shows today. The N90_DVT_GE4X_0493 label is now known to refer to both the codename for the next phone (N90) and that it's a Design Verification Test unit, or one made "very late" into development to prove that the finished design works. Contacts at the company have told tech writer John Gruber that few changes are made by that stage and that this would likely represent finished hardware.
Despite speculation to the contrary, it was also virtually necessary to take the phone out in public, Gruber said. "Dozens" of devices need to go out to test real-world conditions, particularly for cellular networks. A small list of Apple employees are allowed to use prototypes as their iPhones and, as was the case with the most recent incident, are asked both to use the iPhone 3GS-like disguise but also to never discuss or show the phone to anyone, even close family members.
Sightings of the original iPhone were increasingly common in spring 2007, but it didn't require a disguise as many had already seen what they new model would look like.
While it's unlikely that the person who found the phone or even Gizmodo would have known exactly what the labeling meant, it combined with the disguise and disassembling the phone before it was turned over to the news site suggests that the nature of the device was clearer before it was dissected and ultimately returned to Apple.