Phone Home

20 04 2010

You would think there had been a leak in the CIA, a national security breach of the worst degree. Agents gone bad in the line of duty, co-opted by greed and personal gain. Fire up the missiles, we’re at DefCon4 and ready to launch.

But all that happened is that a prototype iPhone was found in California. Brake lights clogged the internet freeway as everyone paused to take a look. And the tech world is ga-ga about what looks like the NextGen iPhone.

Up the road in Redmond WA, Microsoft could have given away a truckload of its new Kin phones to the denizens of Seattle, and no one would have given a cow pie. Really. Or any other phone manufacturer, for that matter.

Of course, media mouths have been running nonstop since the incident last weekend. A young engineer out of school only a few years has been pegged as the fall guy on this one, having somehow absentmindedly left it laying in a bar. Tech rumor mill Gizmodo reportedly paid $10,000 for the phone, and has been having a field day with its “exclusive” reportage.

But I have a hard time believing Apple would allow anyone to leave its campus with such a valuable prototype. The future of the iPhone is in that camouflaged device, including a camera lens on both sides, a flash and other features. How could a company of Apple’s stature carelessly allow this to walk out the front door?

Or is this just one massive, exquisitely executed PR stunt? Sure, Apple has never done this brazen before, but there is nothing to stop them. And let us recall that Apple always leverages PR to its advantage. Its legions of followers are witting players in this drama, with all manner of Mac Rumor sites set up to report and tweet the latest insider gossip. Intentionally planting a prototype in a place where it was certain to be found (and hawked to the media) could generate priceless buzz.

Which it has.

As one of my colleagues opined this morning, though, it would be risky for Apple to be found out on this tactic. But I reminded him that all it takes is an ounce of plausible deniability. It would not be hard for Apple to shake its head and say, “Those younguns…always taking stuff home with them!”

Adding to the confusion is the fcat that Steve Jobs has now publicly asked to have the phone back. “Hmmm…how much is it worth to ya?” Gizmodo must be wondering. Of course Steve Jobs “wants” it back…he has to want it back. What started out as a careless mistake or genius stunt has now morphed into a hostage-and-ransom situation. And Apple just keeps on getting lots of free press.

We may never know the truth. But the fact of the matter is, I want one of those phones. I covet me one. Soon. Right now. Because my old 1st-gen iPhone is gasping and sputtering.

And as for our missile defense system, we really don’t need to send folks into control centers to do this deed. I bet there’s already an app for that.

Dr “4G” Gerlich



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