How the Maltese iPhone got away

Matt Bowman · April 20, 2010 · Short URL:

A bit of disbelief, beer and a buggy OS created a smokescreen thick enough to blind Apple's agents

 You'd think that Apple, the undisputed heavyweight champion of corporate security, would have been able to track down a lost iPhone prototype gone missing for a month before Gizmodo could publish a story on it. Apple likely knew the phone was missing an entire 4 weeks before the story, the biggest scoop in tech memory, hit the intertubes.

That consideration has led many to believe the scoop was an elaborate PR stunt by Apple. I personally find Gizmodo's defense of its own version credible. There's no clear motive for a sloppy-looking leak that deflates the wowpower of June's "one-more-thing". So the question remains... what were Apple's men in black doing during that time? iPhones have GPS. iPhone prototypes must have uber-robust GPS. Heck, Apple probably has nano video cameras following around iPhone prototypes 24/7.

Gizmodo, in its defense of the authenticity of the story, has published a long explanation for how the company could lose track of the Maltese iPhone. It's a long piece, so here's the gist:

  • The unnamed finder of the iPhone played with it a bit the night he found it, and the next morning, it was bricked, ie, someone remotely shut it down completely to avoid security breaches.
  • The finder, unable to turn on the phone and contact the owner, called Apple to try and return it. He described the unusual characteristics (presumably body shape, front-facing camera, etc). The customer service reps, who would never be told of a missing phone by Apple HQ, figured it was probably a Chinese knock-off. The finder didn't provide pictures, so they figured they couldn't help any further.
  • What about GPS? Apple has a product, MobileMe, that lets iPhone owners pinpoint the location of their phone on a map... but it doesn't yet work in the newest operating system, OS 4, currently in beta testing. That was the OS running on the prototype. Therefore, no way to track down the device.

And that's it: a bit of beer, a disbelieving rep and a buggy OS created a hole just large enough for the Maltese iPhone to fly away.


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