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Apple requests return of lost iPhone prototype

Tech blog Gizmodo says it will honor the request, which it calls verification that the device is genuine.

Gizmodo posts photos of what it says is the next version of the iPhone.
Screenshot by Erica Ogg/CNET

Gizmodo said Monday evening it is making arrangements to return an errant device that is believed to be a prototype of the next iPhone, following a request from Apple's legal department, which Gizmodo calls verification of the device's authenticity.

The tech blog site had revealed early Monday that it was in possession of a device it concluded to be a prototype of the unreleased and as-yet-unannounced iPhone 4G. The next-generation device was reportedly found last month on the floor of a San Francisco Bay Area bar after it was apparently left by a customer identified as an Apple employee.

An examination of the device, which was initially masked in the body of an iPhone 3G, pretty much convinced Gizmodo editors that it was genuine. The ultimate evidence, according to Brian Lam, editorial director at Gizmodo parent Gawker Media, came in the form of a terse letter he received later Monday from Apple's legal chief:

Dear Mr. Lam,

It has come to our attention that Gizmodo is currently in possession of a device that belongs to Apple. This letter constitutes a formal request that you return the device to Apple. Please let me know where to pick up the unit.

Bruce Sewell
Senior Vice President & General Counsel
Apple Inc.

"It proves--if there was any doubt in your mind--that this thing is real," Lam wrote in a Gizmodo blog.

In his reply, Lam said that he gave Sewell a contact with whom he could arrange exchange and that he added: "Just so you know, we didn't know this was stolen when we bought it. Now that we definitely know it's not some knockoff, and it really is Apple's, I'm happy to see it returned to its rightful owner. P.S. I hope you take it easy on the kid who lost it."

Apple representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The "kid" Lam referred to is reportedly Apple software engineer Gray Powell, who allegedly left the device on a stool at German bar Gourmet Haus Staudt in Redwood City, Calif., last month. The person who retrieved the device apparently tracked down Powell through a Facebook app on the phone before Apple remotely wiped the device.

"Since this was the only missing piece of the puzzle, we have now both extinguished any doubts of its origin [and] get to give the phone back," Lam said in his blog.

While Lam's puzzle might be complete, there are still plenty of questions. In his letter to Sewell, Lam acknowledges that Gizmodo bought the device. However, it's unknown how much Gizmodo's parent company paid for it. Other unknowns: the identity of the person who found it (if it indeed was lost and not stolen as some have suggested), exactly how the device landed in Gizmodo's lap, and how rival blog Engadget scooped Gizmodo on its own scoop by posting photos and details before Gizmodo did?

Update April 20 at 8:15 a.m. PDT: The Associated Press and other news outlets report that Gawker founder Nick Denton says his company paid $5,000 for the gadget.