Psst, pass it on: Apple has no secrets

Another leaked iPhone 4G prototype has allegedly been spotted in Asia -- so much for Apple's unhealthy obsession with secrecy

It appears that yet another Apple iPhone prototype has gone on a walkabout -- and this time not merely to a beer garden in Redwood City, but all the way to the South Pacific.

The Vietnamese forum Taoviet is running pictures and video of what it claims is another iPhone 4G prototype that has slipped the clutches of the Cupertino clan. (Hmm, maybe those guys at eSarcasm were right after all.)

According to MacRumors, this one's a little different than the model Gizmodo ponied up five large to get its hands on last March. For one thing, instead of "XXGB" on the back, it's emblazoned with "16GB." Two screws that were visible on the Gizmodo model aren't visible here, and there's a MicroSIM slot that wasn't on the other model. A teardown of the thing shows a different processor: an Apple-branded A4.

Also, unlike the Gizmodo device, this one actually works. But instead of the iPhone OS, it's running some test routine called "Inferno." If this is indeed a genuine 4G model, that's probably an apt description of the atmosphere in the Apple executive suites right about now.

Remember, this is the same company that required its app developers to literally chain the prototypes of Apple iPads to tables in windowless cells. Apple would have required a complete brain wipe of all third-party engineers if the company thought it could get away with it.

And now to have lost not one but two prototypes in the space of two months? It boggles the mind. Good Morning Silicon Valley's John Murrell wonders aloud if any Apple engineers have been drinking at the Hanoi Hofbrau. That or some of them have gone rogue -- most likely at the Chinese sweatshops facilities where these things are built, where a few thousand dollars for a stolen device is a lot of money for somebody making 50 cents an hour.

Allegedly (and we're digging deep into the rabbit-hole of Web rumors here) this device was purchased from a Vietnamese businessman for about $4,000, which represents a 20 percent markdown from what Gizmodo paid. That iPhone model isn't out yet and already its price is dropping like a rock. Ain't capitalism grand?

Now the question becomes, what will Steve do? Will he demand Taoviet return its "stolen" iPhone? Will he send a Vietnamese SWAT team to bust down the doors of Taoviet and confiscate its computers? Will they stop by a street vendor for some delicious jellyfish salad on their way?

Stay tuned, as they say, for further developments.

The phone specs are not the interesting part of this story, in my opinion. What's fascinating to me is what this says about Apple and its desire to have things both ways: to pour millions into convincing consumers that its products have magical "life changing" properties, while attempting to control the entire flow of information about them. You can't both stoke the fires and keep the smoke from getting out. The pressure eventually builds until everything blows up.

Guess what, Apple -- everything just blew up. Your trade secrets aren't secret any more. Get used to it, because in the age of the insatiable Web, this is how it's going to be from now on.

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Robert X. Cringely

InfoWorld
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