Gizmodo reveals Apple engineer who lost iPhone prototype, paid $5,000 for it

Quite a wild week it has been with mounting speculation over the purported iPhone HD that was initially leaked by Engadget and now confirmed by Gizmodo. 

As the story goes, someone apparently found the device on the floor of a Redwood City, California bar. Cloaked in a generic iPhone case, the phone was unlike any previous iPhone in that it had a much higher resolution screen, a front-facing camera, an improved rear camera with flash, ran the upcoming 4.0 operating system, and its back was adorned with a smooth glass finish.

Though initially photographed and tipped off to Engadget for their story, Gawker Media head-honcho Nick Denton has confirmed through twitter that they did indeed purchase the device for their story: 

How they came to claim the device from the leaker is unknown, though it would not be unreasonable to think that the individual could have offered to sell or auction it to the highest bidder. Rumors are now spinning that Gizmodo paid upwards of $10,000 for it and maybe even with a bonus depending on the amount of hits it would generate.

As of this posting, the story should claim at least 3 million unique views from visitors pouring in from various news organizations, Twitter, Reddit, and Digg. Factor in advertising revenue to see just how big of a return the “small” $10,000 is making Gizmodo.

Gizmodo today also revealed the identity of the Apple Engineer who lost the phone at the bar. Named Gray Powell, the 27 year old NC State graduate works [or used to work] on the iPhone Baseband Software at Apple and seemed to have lost the prototype over a month ago on March 18th. Gizmodo has the full story here of how their source found Powell’s phone at the bar that night and how it was remotely wiped the next day.

"During that time, he played with it. It seemed like a normal iPhone. "I thought it was just an iPhone 3GS," he told me in a telephone interview. "It just looked like one. I tried the camera, but it crashed three times." The iPhone didn't seem to have any special features, just two bar codes stuck on its back: 8800601pex1 and N90_DVT_GE4X_0493. Next to the volume keys there was another sticker: iPhone SWE-L200221. Apart from that, just six pages of applications. One of them was Facebook. And there, on the Facebook screen, was the Apple engineer, Gray Powell.

Thinking about returning the phone the next day, he left. When he woke up after the hazy night, the phone was dead. Bricked remotely, through MobileMe, the service Apple provides to track and wipe out lost iPhones. It was only then that he realized that there was something strange that iPhone. The exterior didn't feel right and there was a camera on the front. After tinkering with it, he managed to open the fake 3GS.”

In the end, Gizmodo plans to return the phone to its rightful owner after revealing it all to the world. Though they described Powell as “tired and broken” from the phone call they had with him, it seems as if he is in one piece and still working for Apple. 

Update: The Assocated Press has revealed that Gawker Media, parent company of Gizmodo, actually paid $5,000 for the device.

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42 Comments

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Posting the Flickr was a little much. This is journalism not 4chan--shame on Neowin for including the photo etc as well.

Modern journalism has no integrity left.

omni1 said,
Posting the Flickr was a little much. This is journalism not 4chan--shame on Neowin for including the photo etc as well.

Modern journalism has no integrity left.


You’re right. The photo was unneeded and I’ve removed it.

lflashl said,
all apple's leak are "deliberate leaks"

Which is why the foxconn worker committed suicide right?

johndotcom83 said,
hasn't anyone wondered why there hasn't been a cease and desist on this yet???? this almost has to be a prototype unit
you bring up a good point, Apple's legal team is usually on top of everything like flys on sh*t when it comes to leaks

of course, if it was a deliberate "leak"

johndotcom83 said,
hasn't anyone wondered why there hasn't been a cease and desist on this yet???? this almost has to be a prototype unit

My guess - if Apple sent them a C&D, that would pretty much mean that Apple does not want people seeing this particular device, meaning it's the real deal. If Apple doesn't send them a C&D, then it's either not real, or they want people to think it's not real.

Edited by JoeyF, Apr 20 2010, 1:59am :

johndotcom83 said,
hasn't anyone wondered why there hasn't been a cease and desist on this yet???? this almost has to be a prototype unit

Gizmodo would put the letter on the front page as breaking news and the whole would come and see it.

That about sums it up. Microsoft would have gave him a medal for the publicity..apple..a gun fully loaded to play Russian roulette with.

Lost all respect for Giz. I don't care about the bidding war, but releasing information from the person who lost it and who could have his job in the air possibly is not right.

Anyways, can't for to see if Apple will change the design now that this has leaked.

They already knew exactly what phone was missing and who was responsible for it, that was evident when they remotely bricked it. The only thing Gizmondo did, for right or wrong, was cause the guys some public embarrassment, though to their credit the story they told could have been any one of us in that situation. Who hasn't left their phone or wallet somewhere?

Tech Star said,
Lost all respect for Giz. I don't care about the bidding war, but releasing information from the person who lost it and who could have his job in the air possibly is not right.

Anyways, can't for to see if Apple will change the design now that this has leaked.

Yeah, I agree. I can't believe they did that. They post a picture of him too? That's crazy.

His job would be on the line the moment he lost it, regardless of what happened from then.

Still I agree, divulging personal information that was stored on the handset seems wrong to me. If I found a phone I wouldn't be digging through the phone book and the like except with the intent of finding the phones owner so I could return it.

thornz0 said,
They already knew exactly what phone was missing and who was responsible for it, that was evident when they remotely bricked it. The only thing Gizmondo did, for right or wrong, was cause the guys some public embarrassment, though to their credit the story they told could have been any one of us in that situation. Who hasn't left their phone or wallet somewhere?

It's not about his current job, it's about the fact that whenever anyone, including a potential future employer, google his name in the future this will come up.

Stetson said,

It's not about his current job, it's about the fact that whenever anyone, including a potential future employer, google his name in the future this will come up.

Perhaps I'm naive, but I'm not going to hold forgetting a cell phone @ a counter against a talented engineer with Apple in his resume. It would have come out at some point form somewhere, and they painted him in a pretty normal light *shrug* Maybe they shouldn't have done it, but there was nothing malicious about it. If anything it was protecting their own @$$es. Initial rumors said the device was stolen, and now they had it.

You mean you had respect for Gizmodo to begin with? Wasn't there a thread a while back right here on Neowin, about Kotaku (another Gawker Media blog) passing off some Neowin member's electronic tradeshow photos as their own?

thornz0 said,

Perhaps I'm naive, but I'm not going to hold forgetting a cell phone @ a counter against a talented engineer with Apple in his resume.

Well Apple knows the risk as soon as they let engineers take the handsets out the front door. It sounds like he reported or had it locked down pretty quick anyway.

Tech Star said,
Lost all respect for Giz. I don't care about the bidding war, but releasing information from the person who lost it and who could have his job in the air possibly is not right.

Anyways, can't for to see if Apple will change the design now that this has leaked.

Yeah, I agree. That should NEVER have been released to the public like that. Disgusting... Of course Apple already knew, but we didn't have to. I feel sorry for this guy at this point.

Tech Star said,
Lost all respect for Giz. I don't care about the bidding war, but releasing information from the person who lost it and who could have his job in the air possibly is not right.

Anyways, can't for to see if Apple will change the design now that this has leaked.

You totally missed the intention of Gizmodo by releasing his name. They actually saved his life. Now that his name is out, Apple cannot silently fire him or penalize him because he is no longer an unknown person. Moreover, notice the insistence in the article that it was a mistake and it could happen to anybody, the emphasis that he was celebrating his birthday and "it would be a mistake if Apple fires this guy" and bad for Apple's image. Gizmodo does not win anything at all by releasing the name of some unknown programmer, so the real motive is to make him known and therefore protecting him (and protecting Apple from the PR damage its own fury could have produced).