Gizmodo iPhone 4G "Exclusive" is a FAKE

UPDATE: Cnet News appears to have interviewed the father of Gray Powell who confirms that his son was "devasted" and that the person who found the phone is a "thief". I guess my conclusions were all wrong :(

I wanted to apologise for my unnecessarily long hiatus. To be perfectly honest there was nothing pressing that I wanted to discuss. There is now.

A few days ago the gadget blog Engadget posted a story claiming that it had pictures of the new iPhone. Many were skeptical and there was an abundance of commentators alleging that the device was a knock of. Indeed this was hardly the first time a gadget blog had posted an exclusive on a “new” product.

The revelation by Engadget was hardly earth shattering; however, it was the next series of events that blew this story straight into Jobs’ Reality Distortion Field.

The next day another tech blog Gizmodo claimed that they had not only seen the device, but actually had it in their possession and would be coming out with a review.

Several parties were apparently offered access to the device, including Engadget. DailyFinance claimed that the editor-in-chief of Engadget, Joshua Topolsky did not believe in "checkbook (sic) journalism" and were not "in the habit of paying for scoops".

Gizmodo's editor-in-chief had no qualms in handing over cash for the device and this is where the story gets interesting. Apparently he paid $5,000 for the privilege.

What follows is the series of posts by Gizmodo.
First, they published a terribly underwhelming review of the device. However, it was not the review that made me suspicious. The hardware did not look "Apple", but it could easily be a new design choice and everything else about the look and feel of the device seemed authentic. Apparently they were unable to boot the device as it had been remotely wiped, so there was no evidence of what kind of software or OS the device was actually running. By this time Gizmodo had hit over 10 million page views. However, skeptics still remain unconvinced that this was the real thing.

It was then revealed that the device had been left by an Apple employee, Gray Powell, at a bar and had been found by another patron. The patron attempted to contact Apple, received a support ticket for his effort and then decided to make some money by selling pictures of the device to Engadget and Gizmodo and other tech blogs. Selling information on new gadgets is hardly a new phenomenon in the tech world. Gizmodo claimed that the device had been in limbo for a "few weeks" before it landed up at the reviewers table.

Finally, a letter from Apple's general counsel, Bruce Sewell, to Gizmodo apparently seemed to confirm that this was indeed an actual Apple device that they dearly wanted back.

I think it is important that the letter is reproduced:

This is where I first felt suspicious that the phone was a fake.

In my opinion, I think the whole story is a sham along the lines of Jason Calacanis saying he had the iPad before everyone else.

Let us break down the story.

Firstly, Engadget got the original photos. They have said that they didn't buy the device as they don't practice "checkbook (sic) journalism" and I applaud them for their journalistic integrity, but I still think that it is unlikely they would pass up such a MAJOR scoop. In any event they bought the photos of the device, so it is not as though they did not pay money at all!

Secondly, Gizmodo claims to have gotten the device a few weeks after it was lost and found. This seems a little fishy, why would it take a few weeks for the finder of the device to make up his mind about what to do? Wouldn't Gray Powell have gone back to the bar or at least re-traced his steps? I can't offer a convincing opinion on why I think the "few weeks" point is a little off, but my gut tells me that it can't be right.

Next the "review" of the device was atrocious. Obviously this doesn't mean that the device is fake, but, why not show us the charging screen to prove that the resolution is indeed higher. They claim that it is, but there is no evidence of this. Even if Apple has a master kill switch can't the device be jailbroken? I mean there must be a way to have a look at the OS and software on the device. Also, why aren't there more detailed hardware specs? A recent update on their website claims that the device is "definitely" from Apple as there are components inside which have Apple written on them. Compelling evidence? I think not.

Finally, what made me most suspicious was Sewell's letter to the Gizmodo. Apparently there had been an informal conversation between the blog and Apple and the blog wanted Apple to send a formal request for the device. There are a number of things that seem a little "off" with the letter. Essentially, the letter was the most informal letter I have ever read from a lawyer. Sure a legal request doesn't always have to be full of jargon, but, in some cases this is required to ensure that the party sending the letter is protected from any legal ramifications. For example, the word "please let me know where to pick up the unit" is hardly a professional phrase. There have been a lot of discussion over whether the purchase of the device could make Gizmodo complicit in theft of the device, however, nowhere in Sewell's letter does it say that they are likely to press charges unless the device is returned.

Furthermore, looking at this from Apple's perspective I don't see why they would want this device returned at this point. The whole story is "out" everyone knows what the device can and can't do, everyone has seen the hardware and design so why would Apple want it back? It could be a major marketing ploy or public relations stunt. However, Gizmodo got all the page views, and I don't see how Apple would benefit from this scoop, indeed it just goes to show that their tight security is very much fallible.

In summary, the whole thing seems to be just a way for Gizmodo to attract page views, because at the end of the day even if they are caught with their hands in the cookie jar, readers will still come back for more.

NB: I have purposely not linked to the tech blog as the last thing they need is more page views.

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