Web Site's Account Of iPhone Fuels Buzz

Apple Inc. has been characteristically mum about its next-generation iPhone, which is expected out this summer. But photos purported to be of the new phone appeared over the weekend on the technology Web site Engadget, which said a tipster found the device on a barroom floor in San Jose, Calif.

IPhone frenzy quickly spread on the Web Monday, after Gawker Media’s Gizmodo technology Web site posted photos of a similar-looking phone that it said someone found at a bar in Redwood City, north of San Jose. In response to suggestions that Gizmodo paid for the phone, Gawker chief Nick Denton tweeted, “Yes, we’re proud practitioners of checkbook journalism. Anything for the story.”

Late on Monday, Gizmodo provided a full account about how its source got ahold of the phone. It said an Apple software engineer mistakenly left it behind at the Gourmet Haus Staudt, a German beer garden in Redwood City, on March 18. The blog identified the man by name, and published what it said were photos of him as well as links to a page on the photo-sharing site Flickr that it said belonged to him.

A spokeswoman for Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment. In an email, Jason Chen, the Gizmodo editor who wrote the first entry describing the phone, said he received the phone a little less than a week ago. “We were not the people who found it originally,” he said.

Joshua Topolsky, editor-in-chief of Engadget, which is owned by AOL Inc., said that the site was contacted April 17 by people who claimed to have found the device in a bar. These people asked Engadget to pay for access to the device, but it declined to do so after consulting with its attorneys. “We believe it’s the same device,” said Mr. Topolsky.

The device could prove a hoax, but if the phone is an authentic prototype, it could take a bite out of marketing plans at Apple, which goes to great lengths to keep new products a surprise until Chief Executive Steve Jobs can unveil them.

Apple has been working on a new iPhone that is thinner and will have a faster processor than the current model, The Wall Street Journal previously reported, citing people familiar with the device. Apple watchers have expected the company to unveil it sometime in June.

The photos–and Gizmodo’s claim that it has the actual device–had fueled speculation about how an iPhone prototype could turn up at a bar given how carefully Apple controls who can take prototypes out of its offices. John Gruber, who runs a technology site called Daring Fireball, said in a blog entry that Apple considers the phone “stolen, not lost.”

Another theory that had been going around: Someone left it behind deliberately to create buzz.

Gizmodo reported that its device has features that would be new to the iPhone, such as a front-facing camera for video-chatting, a bigger lens, a flash on the back camera, an improved display and split buttons for volume control. The Web site released a video of its editor holding a device that was not functioning.

The screen was slightly smaller than that on the current 3GS model, Gizmodo said, but the phone included a 16% larger battery and is three grams heavier. Unlike past iPhones with curved corners, the Gizomodo find was completely flat in the back, with corners that are more squared off and surrounded by an aluminum border.

Gizmodo said it believes the phone, which was found in a protective case made to look like an iPhone 3GS, is authentic because it had behaved like an iPhone when connected to a computer and the person who found it said it was running the latest operating system that was just announced before “Apple remotely killed the phone.”


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