Next iPhone discovered... in a Silicon Valley bar?

As the blogosphere continues to debate whether or not photos published by technology website Gizmodo depict Apple's newest version of gizmodo iphoneits iPhone, The New York Times--citing a source with direct knowledge of Apple's hardware plans--reports the device is indeed the real deal, sparking new interest into how the prototype managed to slip from Apple's iron grip.

Photos of the reputed iPhone began surfacing on the web this weekend. In a blog post published Monday, Gizmodo notes that the iPhone was left behind in a Silicon Valley area bar dubbed Gourmet Haus Staudt by Apple software engineer Gray Powell--the person who found the phone sold it to Gizmodo for $5,000, which then posted photos and dissected its features. The iPhone prototype appears slimmer than previous models, with sharper edges and a backside made of ceramic glass, presumably to enable improved network reception.

Apple is not expected to formally announce the updated iPhone until its annual Worldwide Developer Conference this summer, and declined comment on the leaked device. However, The New York Times reports Apple CEO Steve Jobs reached out to Gizmodo on Monday to reclaim the lost iPhone; Nick Denton--CEO of Gizmodo parent Gawker Media--said any conversation with Jobs most likely would have been off the record, adding "We haven't had any formal communication with Apple." Gizmodo said it would "probably" return the phone to Apple.

A leak of such dramatic scale would be remarkable for any veteran technology firm, let alone one as famously guarded as Apple. "It is very stunning," Creative Strategies president Tim Bajarin tells the NYT. "Apple has such tight control on new products, and they are kept under wraps diligently and religiously until the day of their release. If it is true, it is really a first." Some pundits speculate the "lost iPhone" is instead an Apple publicity stunt. "For the sake of the person who dropped it, I hope this is a devious marketing scheme," futurist Paul Saffo says. "But I think it is unlikely. There is no one else on the planet whose shoes I would less like to be in it at the moment."

For more on the iPhone soap opera:
- read this New York Times article

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