The Wayward iPhone

An Apple software engineer named Gray Powell celebrated his 27th birthday at a German beer garden in Redwood City, Calif., March 18. Little did he know that, through a single moment of absentmindedness, he would turn the tech world on its collective ear.

That’s because he accidentally left something behind on the barstool when he departed the drinking establishment – the prototype of the next version of Apple’s iPhone.

But the manure didn’t really hit the rotating blades until April 17 when AOL Inc.’s Engadget tech blog posted photos of the device. By April 19, Gawker Media’s Gizmodo blog announced it had acquired the wayward handheld, saying it paid an unidentified person $5,000 for the mobile. What’s more, not only did Gizmodo report on the phone’s features, but workers at the blog actually dismantled the device.

What did they find? For starters, the new iPhone is slimmer than current models, sporting sides that are squared rather than curved. It appears Apple has also dropped the aluminum backing on the phone, opting for something shiny and dark instead of bright and reflective. It also contains a video camera on its front, probably for video chatting, and has an improved regular camera on the back as well as a camera flash, according to Gizmodo.

The prototype runs a new operating system – OS 4.

The tech blog also reported the iPhone has a secondary mic for noise cancellation, split buttons for volume, a larger battery and is 3 grams heavier than previous models. Gizmodo also said the screen, which is slightly smaller than the iPhone 3GS, boasts higher resolution than its predecessors.

While the tech blogosphere debated as to whether the phone was even real – as if someone has the resources to come up with a working mobile containing iPhone features and then play a hoax on the world by leaving it on a barstool – the story as to how it ended up in a beer garden is almost as interesting as the new features.

It turns out Powell was field testing the new iPhone, including using it to update his Facebook page. “I underestimated how good German beer is,” Powell posted via the device onto Facebook. As it turns out, that was probably the last time he used the phone before leaving it behind on that barstool.

Evidently, another of the beer garden’s customers picked up the iPhone. One month later Engadget acquired photos of the device while Gizmodo paid five grand to actually touch, hold and dissect the prototype.

You really couldn’t blame the techies at Gizmodo for dismantling the phone. Apparently Powell told Apple he lost the phone shortly after leaving the beer garden, because the phone ceased working the next morning, leading many to think Apple remotely shut the gadget down.

But if Apple could disable the mobile remotely, why couldn’t it zero in on its location via GPS? After all, Apple hawks a product called MobileMe that comes in handy when iPhones are lost or stolen, enabling owners to determine the location of the missing devices. Unfortunately for Apple, that feature wasn’t working, possibly the victim of a beta software bug, according to Gizmodo.

Of course, not everyone was quick to assume the phone was the real McCoy, and there were questions regarding the device’s authenticity even after Gizmodo and Engadget posted photos. Even though both tech blogs came up with several reasons for why they thought the handheld was the real deal, Gizmodo was the one that received confirmation from Apple that what they had was a genuine new version of the iPhone. It came in the form of a letter from Apple’s lawyers confirming the device was the company’s property while asking the blog’s staffers to return it. Gizmodo graciously complied.

Apple’s Concert Ticket

Approximately 24 hours before Engadget published photos of the new iPhone, another possible future Apple product was receiving heavy exposure on the ‘Net.

Web site PatentlyApple posted diagrams and information on an Apple patent filing, dubbed Concert Ticket +, detailing a system capable of “obtaining, storing or using electronic tickets” for electronic devices, such as PDAs, MP3 players and smartphones.

Of course, Apple is probably thinking iPods, iPhones, iMacs, MacBooks and many other products carrying the Steve Jobs seal of approval. But a successful e-ticketing system working with digital devices would need to be compatible with several platforms, regardless of manufacturer. So this would be one system that Apple won’t be able to restrict to its own devices.

The patent filing also mentions possible near field communication (NFC) capabilities as well as RFID tags, opening the door to several possibilities, from purchasing tickets from kiosks, transferring a ticket to another device and ordering food and drinks from your seat in the venue, sans waiters.

Or even purchasing a recording of the evening’s performance. While instant recordings of concerts aren’t new, the ability to receive the recording on your cell phone while you exit the building is a new twist to the take-the-concert-home-with-you concept.
The Ticket + system described in the patent filing would also benefit venues, labels, and anyone else wanting to use the technology to reach concert fans, such as sending songs to ticket holders, or sending messages regarding offerings at concessions and merch stands. Imagine a 20,000-seat venue during a sold-out show where venue managers can instantly send customized messages to each and every person attending the event and you’ll see just a few of the many advantages this system could provide.

The patent filing also suggests that Apple might be considering methods to sell concert tickets via its iTunes online store.

Of course, Apple files a lot of patents, and some of the devices and systems described in those filings never see the light of day. Whether Apple will someday present an electronic ticketing system for cell phones and PDAs is anyone’s guess. And because Apple never comments on anything it’s not ready to talk about, your guess is as good as anyone’s.