Prototype iPhone 5 ‘left in bar’ may be marketing strategy, not leak

Stop me if you heard this one before. An Apple employee walks into a bar…

Said employee is entrusted with the apple of Apple’s eye — the latest iPhone prototype. He drinks a few too many brews with his Silicon Valley buddies and leaves the priceless device behind.

In March of last year, Apple engineer Gray Powell became instantly infamous by doing just that. He brought a prototype of the iPhone 4 — disguised as a 3GS — to a birthday party at a beer garden, and left it on the bar.

Powell was turning 27 the next day, and for most iPhone owners, the oversight would be a blip on life’s radar (though a maddening one, for sure). Sure, an iPhone is an expensive device to lose, but it’s just a gadget. Phones get lost, they get stolen or you drop them in the toilet. That’s just how it goes.

But when you’re an Apple engineer with a major company secret in your pocket, it’s a bit different. Gizmodo, the Gawker Media tech blog, eventually purchased the device for $5,000 from the man who recovered it, spending so much because the iPhone was clearly not a 3GS (camera on the front was a dead giveaway) and Powell’s Facebook account was open on it indicating his position with Apple (as well as his love for German beer). Gizmodo then published pictures of the phone and outed the engineer who lost it, posting screenshots and images of Powell pulled from his Facebook profile. Apple responded with a legal challenge to reclaim the device, and the tech blog eventually returned it.

After the Powell Incident, you would expect two things to naturally occur. For one, Apple would tighten its security (perhaps prohibit prototypes in public places where drinking is the primary activity?), and Powell would be fired, if not worse.

Powell was not fired, as far as anyone can tell, as Apple does not make available its employee information. No reports of him being terminated exist.

And Apple’s security must still be less secure than it touts, because lightening just figuratively struck twice. Another prototype iPhone — this one likely the iPhone 5— was left behind by another drunk Apple employee in a San Fran tequila bar in July. It sold on Craigslist for $200, but was tracked down by Apple and retrieved. Allegedly.

The International Business Times suggests that this story may not even be real. No pictures were released before Apple got the device back, and the coincidence is fishy at best.

Apple is also known for its brilliant strategic marketing. What better way to get people hyped over the impending release of the iPhone 5 than to treat the loss of a prototype as though it were a matter of national security? That’s what makes the press, and people, pay attention.

If it isn’t a marketing strategy, Apple needs a new security policy. Although its laissez-faire attitude over these prototype losses is in conflict with the company’s reaction to another recent “mistake” by an Apple employee. Apple’s cofounder, Steve Wozniak, admitted that he accidentally got an employee fired for showing him the iPad on the morning of its launch. From Gizmodo’s interview with Wozniak:

“I can tell you that the test engineer who showed me an iPad after midnight, for two minutes, during the iPad launch was indeed fired. I opted to spend two minutes with Numbers on this iPad, trying some stunts I’d seen on Apple’s website demo video. I was not told that it was a 3G model and I had no way to know that. I was told that this engineer had to wait until midnight to show it outside of Apple’s secure area. And I’m an Apple employee who he was showing it to.”

What do you think, readers? Is this Apple’s new marketing technique? Perhaps the first loss was a true accident and Apple’s creatives realized how good the press was for the iPhone 4 release.

Bottom line, if this is a marketing scheme, it’s a very effective one.  

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