iPhone 4G prototype found on a bar floor?

Engadget posts images of a phone purportedly found on the floor of a bar in San Jose, Calif., suggesting that it's actually Apple's yet-to-be-released, fourth-generation iPhone. On Monday morning, Gizmodo follows with its own set of photos and video of "the real thing."

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Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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Is this the new iPhone? Engadget

The rumor mill is gearing up for the launch of Apple's fourth-generation iPhone, and the latest rumor has an aroma of fermented hops and barley.

Many observers expect Apple to release a new model in late spring or early summer. CEO Steve Jobs said recently that an updated mobile OS would be ready this summer--a perfect opportunity to release new iPhone hardware. Fueling speculation that a June launch is imminent is a report from Boy Genius Report that it has "confirmed with multiple AT&T sources that the carrier has now put a block on employees taking vacations in June."

Engadget is fanning the flames with photographs it says contain images of the forthcoming phone. Here's Engadget's explanation on how the images surfaced:

Apparently the phone was found on the floor of a San Jose bar inside of an iPhone 3G case. Right now we don't have a ton of info on the device in question, but we can tell you that it apparently has a front facing camera (!), 80GB of storage (weird, right?), and isn't booting at this point (though it was previously, and running an OS that was decidedly new). It's not clear if this is definitely a production model, or just a prototype that found its way into the world, but it's certainly a compelling design, no matter how you look at it.

Perhaps bolstering Engadget's report is a Twitpic posted in February that bears a striking resemblance to Engadget's images. However, other blogs reported that the images were actually of a Japanese iPhone counterfeit. As "proof" of the validity its report, Engadget reposted a grainy, heavily redacted photo it posted with a January iPad prototype story it now says shows the forthcoming iPhone sitting next to the then-yet-to-be released iPad.

Additionally, a MacRumors reader posted these images--purportedly from a Chinese Web site--that appear similar to those posted earlier by Engadget, although some readers suggest these are really images of the what was described as a Japanese counterfeit.

Of course, one has to wonder whether a company that guards the secrecy of its unreleased products as fiercely as Apple would actually allow an employee to take a prototype out to mingle with pretzels and spilled beer.

Update April 19 at 7:15 a.m. PDT: Gizmodo is now weighing in with a lengthy post titled "This is Apple's Next iPhone." Where Engadget says the device it's reporting on was found in a bar in San Jose, Gizmodo claims that it got hold of a gadget "found lost in a bar in Redwood City, camouflaged to look like an iPhone 3GS."

And, says Gizmodo: "We disassembled it. It's the real thing."

Whereupon it offers up a bevy of photos and video, along with details such as a "front-facing video chat camera," camera flash, micro-SIM, and a larger battery.

Beyond that, Gizmodo assembles such an array of circumstantial evidence as to suggest that, in Gizmodo's judgment, "there's very little possibility that it's a fake." Those clues range from Daring Fireball's John Gruber asserting that a prototype iPhone has gone missing from Apple to the lack of firmware for the device (which reportedly "was running iPhone OS 4.0 before the iPhone 4.0 announcement," though it was later remotely killed by Apple), and the fact, Gizmodo says, that the device "behaves exactly like an iPhone does when connected to a computer" and that "Mac OS X's System Profiler also reports this as an iPhone in restore mode...but report different product identifiers (both CPID and CPRV) than either the 3G or the 3GS."