I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I’m still skeptical about the whole “Gizmodo’s got a 4th generation iPhone” story. Yes, it looks a lot like it could be real. And they’re saying all the right things. But the one thing that I can’t get over is this: they’re only saying those things.

There’s still no real proof. Everything we know about this comes from Gizmodo (other sites with pictures claim to have only received those photos, none of them have actually handled the unit).

I’m not saying this is a hoax. I don’t think any of us really know enough to say one way or the other. What I am saying is that we’re all jumping up and down over what’s really not more than a few well-done photos and videos. In the past, such photos have been met with disbelief. This time, not so much, for whatever reason.

Anyway, some specific points that I wish had been addressed:

  • There are no pictures of the phone turned on. They claim it had been remote-wiped, but that there was still a “Connect to iTunes” screen that appeared to be much higher resolution (to support rumors of a better screen). Why no pictures of that screen?
  • Also, there are claims of Apple logos on the internals of the device. Why no pictures of them? Sure, there’s a single photo of a wire harness and an empty case, but no chips. Not even the mainboard. One of the first things that I wanted to know was what networks would this work on, so chipset details would have been good to get.
  • Related to that – they say it uses a micro SIM. I’ve never seen a micro SIM before. It would have been nice to see that, with a comparison to a regular SIM. What carrier is it on? Is there an adapter to use the micro SIM in a normal phone? Try that, tell me what carrier it wants to use (even if it’s disabled, I’d think it should at least come up with a carrier ID).
  • We’re told that the computer identified this as an iPhone. Why no details? Did it come up as “iPhone3,1” or “iDev2,2” or something else equally interesting? Did you plug it into a Linux box and see what you can get there? USB details, screenshots, movies, etc… all would have been nice to see.
  • Has anyone tried to restore a backup to the phone? Would that even work? Even a failure would be interesting. Perhaps a remote-wipe prevents such a restore, or maybe iTunes would refuse because it didn’t recognize the specific model, but again, that’s something I’d expect to have been at least discussed.
  • “Well, they got a letter from Apple, that proves it!” I’m pretty sure there are enough copies of cease-and-desist letters from Apple floating around the net that anyone could make a convincing-looking letter with only a little trouble. Actually, an interesting angle – couldn’t anyone in the area forge a letter from Apple, arrange a pickup, and walk away with a cool new phone? :)
  • There’s been no independent verification. Perhaps nobody else wanted to go on the record, but even a mention of “we offered to show it to unnamed high-profile bloggers, but they all refused” would have been a nice touch. But at least having one or two well-known personalities say “Yeah, I saw it too, and it looks legit” would have been worth the trouble.
  • Finally, there’s Occam’s Razor. Has Apple EVER lost development hardware like this before? There’s been plenty of press about the iPads provided to key developers before release, and the security on those was impressive. How’d a 27-year-old engineer get one out of the building? (unless he wasn’t authorized, in which case he’d really be in for a world of hurt).

Bottom line: I just don’t know. I want to believe it’s a real iPhone, just because it does look nice and appears to have all the features we’ve been jonesing for. On the other hand, have we ever seen all of our rumored features materialize on a new iPhone release? Pretty convenient that they’re all there (well, except for T-Mobile or Verizon, which they didn’t demonstrate).

But setting aside emotions, wanting to believe, and simply looking at the evidence, I remain skeptical. If only because, as I said, all we’ve seen is photos and movies of the outside, and a couple distant or ambiguous pictures of the internals. And a letter.

On the flip side, though, is this question: Would Gizmodo really have it in so bad for the entire community that they’d try to play everyone with an elaborate hoax? That too, seems unlikely.

So, again, I just don’t know. It would have been nice to see more details, and especially to get some independent verification, but still…it’d be hard to really know for certain unless Apple publicly admitted it.

There’s also been a lot of talk about the ethics of this, if it is a real phone. Is it ethical for a journalist to pay $5000 for a phone that they know isn’t the seller’s personal property? Is it illegal? Certainly, Gizmodo hasn’t signed any NDAs, but Trade Secret law can be odd, especially (or so I’ve read) in California. On the other hand, the phone wasn’t marked proprietary or secret or anything, so you might argue that Apple hasn’t really tried hard to protect it. (You might also argue that letting a young engineer take it out drinking isn’t too responsible either).

I suppose they could claim that they paid for the chance to look at it for a few days, fully expecting to turn it over to the real owner once they’ve come forward. And, really, if someone were to leave a prototype next-generation Prius, doors unlocked, in the parking lot at Car and Driver – would we really expect them to not take a boatload of pictures while they waited for the owner to come back?

I’m not quite ready to totally villify Gizmodo for this. If it’s all true, they might’ve cost someone his job – though even if they’d immediately hand-delivered it to Apple headquarters, possibly in exchange for brownie points, the guy’s job might still be in jeopardy. And if Gizmodo’s job is to break stories, then they did exactly what you’d expect. All I can say is I’m glad I’m not in a business where I have to make that kind of decision. And that alone is a reason I’m not going to judge them, either way.

Now I’ve rambled. Probably too much. So let me sum up:

  • Cool pictures.
  • Cool anectodal evidence, but no photos/videos to back those up.
  • No independent verification, other than photos on other sties.
  • Possible confirmation from Apple, but even that has no indepentent verification.
  • Apple’s never lost something like this before (that I can remember).
  • Simplest answer: We’ve been had.
  • Most exciting answer: It’s all real.

Honestly, I’m not sure which of those two options I want to be true.

And realistically, as long as the next iPhone officially supports T-Mobile, so I can stop doing the jailbreak / unlock dance, then I won’t personally give a damn what new features it has. :)

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