The missing iPhone 5: Hoax or happenstance?

Either Apple is pulling a very clever publicity stunt, or the company has the worst physical security in the tech industry.

When news surfaced that Apple had lost another unreleased iPhone in a California bar, I could not help but remember my favorite lines from “The Hunt For Red October” movie. Near the end of the film, a Russian submarine is destroyed, only the Russians don’t know it, so they assume that it has gone “missing” along with the Red October. This leads to the following exchange between the Russian ambassador and the National Security Advisor.

Russian Ambassador: “One of our submarines, an Alpha, was last reported in the area of the Grand Banks. We have not heard from her for some time.”

National Security Advisor: “Andre ... you've lost another submarine?”

I can just see some lab tech reporting in to Steve Jobs.

Lab tech: “One of our secret devices, an unreleased iPhone 5, was reported missing in the area of the Cava22 bar in San Francisco. We have not gotten any calls from it in some time.”

Jobs: “My dear Marty … We’ve lost another iPhone?!?”

No, I don’t know why I named my tech Marty. Anyway, if you remember, back when the iPhone 4 was still a big secret, someone at Apple lost a prototype in a bar under similar circumstances. It was eventually found by someone and sold to a tech blog for $5,000. The blogger then took the phone apart and reported on all its secrets.

The possibility that the same type of thing could happen to Apple again is incredible. I run a test lab here at GCN and we’ve never had a product lost or stolen. Devices we test stay locked inside the secure perimeter unless they need to go out for field testing. Even then, devices can only leave the lab after a reviewer fills out an analysis form complete with testing methodology, locations and time frames. And no, I don’t generally approve requests where the testing methodology is, “In addition to slipping singles to the strippers, I plan to dazzle them by showing off this new gadget.”

I don’t see any reason why an iPhone 5 should ever leave the Apple labs, much less go off their campus. If they needed to do field testing, I can think of more controlled environments than the Cava22 bar. Physical security should be one of the easiest things to fortify. It’s not like hackers are performing Mission Impossible-type stunts and trying to slip past a laser grid to get a glance at a new phone model.

There is a new wrinkle in this story, too. Digital Trends magazine is accusing Apple of making the whole thing up. They say that they’ve talked with San Francisco Police and there is no record of any police report for a lost or stolen iPhone. The bar owner also said that nothing was reported missing to his security staff, though someone had called asking about a lost phone. And Apple is refusing to comment to anyone, including the police.

So, who knows, perhaps Apple made the whole thing up to bring attention to the iPhone 5. You have to admit it’s a great story, although it does make Apple look kind of silly.

Tell you what, Mr. Jobs, if this is real, you can give me a call. You are one of the most inventive individuals on Earth, akin to Thomas Edison in a lot of ways. But your company has some of the worst physical security ever. Give me a ring and I’d be happy to give you some tips as to how you can keep your secrets safe and sound.

You can have this one for free: Locking the door with your iPhones on the other side is a good place to start.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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Reader Comments

Tue, Sep 6, 2011 Bruce Singer US

The only way to really test the phone is to have someone use it as their primary phone. Someway who uses a phone a lot. Someone who has used a previous version a lot. If they are using it as their primary phone, it will go with them. And there is always a chance it will go missing. The polish their UI has on there devices shows that they do this kind of testing. The don't get that kind of polish by testing a couple of hours in a lab. I don't care how great your lab is, it will never encounter all the real world conditions people encounter.

Tue, Sep 6, 2011

ORly? Come on. We suspected the first lost iPhone was a publicity stunt. And now it happens again? This will be on memebase before the day is out. "Losing your prototype. That's so mainstream." Apple doesn't "need" to promote the new iGadget, but they live for attention and the approval of their adoring "fans."

Tue, Sep 6, 2011

Security??? Seriously??? They're manufactured in China for cripes sake.

Tue, Sep 6, 2011 Lockett

In my opinion, this is just another opportunity for Apple to create a "buzz" around the iPhone 5 so when it's released there will be a mad dash to buy one.

Tue, Sep 6, 2011 Gary Lee FL, USA

Apple is legendary for pranoia and resistance to any sort of reporting of who their vendors are, what mateirals they use and so forth because it might give a clue to their competitors on new devices, but they expect us to believe they let employees walk around with prototypes of unreleased phones? I'd be more inclined to believe that the guy who follows the President left the "football" at a bar in DC.

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