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Jumping the gun: Apple’s next-gen iPhone

Gizmodo is calling it Apple’s next iPhone, but is it? The device we’ve seen dominating blogs and even mainstream media this week definitely belongs to Apple – we know that because it asked for it back – but that doesn’t mean it’s the next iPhone. I’ll admit that I got caught up in calling it the the “next iPhone” and the “iPhone 4G” but now that the dust has settled I’m going to go out on a limb. What we’ve seen leaked and what we’ll see Steve Jobs pull out on-stage will be very different.

I’m basing my theory on facts, pulled together with a little supposition. According to the BBC, last year on 13 July a Foxconn employee committed suicide after losing an iPhone 4G prototype. We don’t know what happened to that prototype, but we do know that on 20 February 2010 what looks to be the same prototype iPhone as the one Gizmodo bought in April appeared on Twitter. The person who posted the picture says he found it while doing a Twitter search, and claims that it was originally tweeted by someone from Asia. Could the picture on Twitter – two months before Gizmodo bought their “lost” iPhone – be of the missing Foxconn prototype?

We know that the iPhone recently found in a bar belonged to an Apple software engineer, which rules out it being the one on Twitter. That points to there being another ‘iPhone 4G’ out there. Again, this is all speculation, but it certainly fits in with the facts we know about. Assuming the iPhone pictured on Twitter is ‘in the wild’ and that it’s the missing Foxconn device, then that would suggest that the so-called “next iPhone” has been floating around China, or elsewhere, since July last year. That’s a whole eight months before the Apple engineer lost his iPhone.

Would Steve Jobs really launch a product that could have been in competitors’ hands for more than half a year? That seems doubtful. History has taught us that Jobs is incredibly protective of Apple’s work. The company rarely leaks anything and has been known to file lawsuits against publications who leak inside information. Steve Jobs also likes to surprise people – it’s not for nothing that he’s most closely associated with the phrase “One more thing” – and it would certainly ruin the surprise if someone posted pictures of an upcoming device to say Twitter or Gizmodo months before it was due to come out.

In addition to all that, would Apple allow a software engineer working on the iPhone baseband to take a next-gen iPhone outside of its campus? Probably not. Unless, of course, Apple wasn’t too concerned about that particular prototype because it had already made the decision to scrap that design when it lost it the first time round. Some pundits have said that Apple isn’t making a huge fuss over this week’s events because that would confirm that Gizmodo has indeed got the iPhone 4G. I think Apple hasn’t made a huge fuss because it isn’t the iPhone 4G at all.

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