A look at the next iPhone, as it leaks across the Internet

Today, Gizmodo won at the Internet, and all it took was $10,000$5000. That’s the current price being whispered amongst the blogging circles as what was paid for a prototype of the next iPhone — yep, next, as in the one that isn’t announced yet — purportedly found on the floor of a bar in San Jose.

So what does all this mean? Is it real? Read on for the details.

The hardware:

The device won’t boot up (though it did briefly, and was seemingly remote wiped) and much of the internals are unlabeled, so only so much is known about the insides. But here’s what we know so far:

  • Dimensions: 4.50″x2.31″x0.37″ (For comparison, the 3GS is 4.5″x2.4″x0.48″)
  • Weight: 140 grams (3GS: 135 grams)
  • Battery: 5.25 WHr at 3.7v (3GS was 4.51 WHr at 3.7v, making the new model’s battery about 16.5% higher capacity)
  • The display: Giz says that the screen seems considerably higher resolution, but can’t determine a specific pixel count. From a technical standpoint, doing anything but doubling the pixel count both horizontally and vertically (effectively quadrupling the number of pixels on screen) would be problematic for the 180,000 apps already in the App Store. As such, if it’s a higher resolution, it’s almost certainly 960×640.
  • Front facing camera
  • Secondary rear camera, with a camera flash and seemingly larger lens
  • Uses Micro-SIM instead of a standard SIM. Nothing in the US besides the iPad 3G uses Micro-SIM at this point.
  • As shown in pictures, the rear of the case abandons the curves of the last few generations in favor of something almost perfectly flat.

Is it real?
If you asked me this question earlier this week, after the first pictures of it had emerged, I’d have said no — or, at least, “It’s too early to tell.”

Given today’s evidence, however, it’s pretty much undeniable: Apple made this. Giz ripped the backing off the handset for a peek inside. I say this as someone who has disassembled one too many iPhones for their own good: that.. that is very much Apple’s work. From the shape of the clips to the types of connectors used, it’s all too familiar. Faking the outside of a phone to look like an Apple product would require man-power and cash money far beyond most people’s reach; faking the inside seems nigh impossible.

But the new design! It’s, it’s.. so different!

Yep. It is.

And that’s by no means evidence against it being real. People seem to have this false idea that Apple doesn’t take rapid departures in their product designs — when in actuality, they do it often. Regularly, even.

Every few years, Apple takes their flagship products, tears them apart, and rebuilds them from the ground up. Sometimes, they come back looking the same on the outside, but being drastically different inside (see the unibody MacBook Pros).

The rest of the time, they come back looking nothing like their predecessors. In 1999, Apple released the iBook G1, a brightly colored clamshell that came in a rainbow of hues. In 2001, Apple dropped the colors (and took the “clamshell” design a bit less literally) in favor of a squared-off, sterile white design of the iBook G3. Look at the iMac of 2001 and the iMacs of 2004 and 2009 and try to say that Apple’s “design language” is unwavering.

The Shroud:

Perhaps I’m just overly geeky, but the case this thing was wrapped in is one of the coolest parts of the story.

If this thing was out and about in someones pocket in some way that it could be dropped, the design team has apparently reached the point where it’s time for real world testing. With the iPhone reaching an almost ubiquitous level of popularity, however, an easily distinguishable new model wasn’t really something that could be carried around unnoticed.

Apple’s solution? Make it look like a 3GS.

Apple camouflaged this thing, much in the same way that car manufacturers tape all kinds of extra junk and obfuscation layers onto prototype cars when they’re testing them on the tracks. It sat inside a case that would make it look like a 3GS to anyone taking a cursory glance, with special holes cut in all the right places for the new bits.

On Legality

Before I get into this: this is by no means an indication of some moral objection on my part. Given the same opportunity — that is, to buy the next iPhone long before its release — I imagine I’d have done the exact same thing Giz has done.

With that said, I do wonder about where all of this sits from a legal standpoint. The story, as it goes so far: guy finds what looks like an iPhone 3GS in a protective case sitting on the floor of a bar in San Jose. He pops the case off and, lo and behold, it’s not the iPhone 3GS at all, but a brand-stinkin’ new, unreleased iPhone. He sends some pictures to Engadget, and then sells the unit itself to Gizmodo for the aforementioned rumored price tag of $5k. Giz then spends a few days attempting to prove that it’s real before posting it.

It goes without saying: I am not a lawyer. But given the circumstances and that all parties involved knew (or at least, have been working to prove) that this is an Apple prototype that didn’t rightly belong on a bar floor in San Jose, does this all fall into “possession of stolen goods”?

Either way, it’ll be incredibly interesting to see how Apple responds to this. If they send a cease and desist, fight for some sort of injunction, or send in the A-Team to bust through the windows and steal the unit back, they’re essentially admitting its legitimacy. If they do nothing, they’ve got a prototype of their next handset floating around in the wild, months before its unveiling.

Read Giz’s full coverage here.