It's a tribute to Apple's legendary marketing prowess that the incident would even be considered part of surreptitious scheme to boost buzz even further for the latest version of the company's signature device (at least until the iPad overtakes it.) If so, the move succeeded brilliantly in generating publicity, making headlines around the globe and heightening anticipation for the formal release of the Apple 4G this summer more than it might've been otherwise.
Is it even possible the prototype was released in the wild by design? After all, Apple is as well known for its airtight secrecy as for its marketing savvy, zealously guarding information about new products to help ensure maximum media hoopla when finally released to the public. But given the company's obsession with secrecy, how could it let a 4G iPhone slip out in the hands of a young Apple engineer celebrating his 27th birthday at a Redwood City beer garden?
Perhaps Apple wanted to send out a trial balloon to gauge reaction to the more industrial look and feel of the new iPhone? The device also sports a front-facing camera for video chatting, a higher-resolution display and a glass or ceramic backing, according to Gizmodo. Sure, it would be a counterintuitive step for Apple, but why should it diminish interest when the phone is actually launched in a few months?
Now the unveiling has an intrigue-filled backstory worthy of a high-tech espionage thriller. Now Apple loyalists and others will be eager to find out whether the final version turns out to be the same one at the center of the current media frenzy. The San Francisco launch will be the final chapter when all plot lines are resolved.
There's still questions about its authenticity of the lost iPhone as well, though the fact that Apple's general counsel has asked Gizmodo for it back (and Gizmodo has reportedly now returned it) strongly suggests it's the real deal.
It may be a real 4G iPhone prototype, but longtime Apple watcher Tim Bajarin of tech consulting firm Creative Strategies, for one, isn't buying any conspiracy theories around the device winding up with Gizmodo as an ingenious marketing ploy. "I think it was an honest mistake," he said. "However, I suspect that it will cause Apple to become even more secretive and not even let test units off the Apple Campus in the future." That doesn't sound quite as exciting as a marketing strategy.