Lost iPhone The Real Deal, Gawker Founder Says News that a software engineer for Apple lost an iPhone prototype in a California bar has been treated with skepticism by some tech bloggers, who suspected a publicity stunt. But the head of the company that says it's sharing Apple's secrets with the world insists the strange tale is legit. Tell us about your most embarrassing workplace gaffe.
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Lost iPhone The Real Deal, Gawker Founder Says

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Lost iPhone The Real Deal, Gawker Founder Says

Lost iPhone The Real Deal, Gawker Founder Says

Lost iPhone The Real Deal, Gawker Founder Says

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/126136926/126136912" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The Apple iPhone 4G prototype (left) and 3GS. Gizmodo.com hide caption

toggle caption

The Apple iPhone 4G prototype (left) and 3GS.


The strange story of a lost iPhone prototype was no publicity stunt, says the founder and publisher of Gawker media, which shared Apple's secrets with the world via Gizmodo.com.

The test phone was found, and eventually sold to editors at Gizmodo.com, who shared Apple's secrets with the world.

Nick Denton says Gizmodo acquired the iPhone 4G despite initial skepticism.

"We, as well as a couple of other websites, received an e-mail last week with some blurry photographs of a device that looked like a rather hard-edged version of the current iPhone," Denton says.

They eyed the photos suspiciously at first, Denton says, adding: "But as we looked into it further, it became more and more apparent" that the device was legitimate.

Denton and Gawker media offered $5,000 to the middleman for the 4G.

"It wasn't explicitly up for sale," he tells NPR's Neal Conan, but "we've never made any secret of the fact that if the story demands it, we will give rewards, bounties for exclusive stories like this one."

Denton says that many "tech conspiracy theorists" have speculated Gizmodo is in cahoots with Apple, "but if you actually think about the history of Apple, their reputation of being an extremely secretive company, they have never ever leaked significant information before a product launch." And beyond that, Denton insists, "it's just not true."

Jesus Diaz, senior contributing editor at Gizmodo, has played with the iPhone prototype. "It's much smaller," he says, than a iPhone 3GS. Aesthetically, he compares the current iPhone to Taiwanese phones: "all plastic and kind of out-of-place with the whole Apple product line, which is more square, more German, if you will." The 4G, Diaz says, is more in line with the iPad and other Apple products.

Leaving a top-secret prototype in a bar isn't the best career move. Have you ever had a terrible work-related gaffe? Tell us about it.


This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

File this in the catalog of work-related nightmares: An Apple engineer goes to a bar to celebrate his 27th birthday and leaves behind a working prototype of the super-secret, next-generation Apple iPhone. He forgets it on a barstool.

Long story short, it ends up in the hands of Gizmodo, a tech blog owned by Gawker Media, and Apple, perhaps the most airtight and security-obsessed organization in Silicon Valley, has to write a letter to Gawker to ask for its property back. Suffice to say, Apple CEO Steve Jobs' product launch may not pack the punch he once planned for.

In just a moment, we'll speak with Nick Denton of Gawker Media and Jesus Diaz of Gizmodo about the so-called secret iPhone, but consider the plight of the hapless engineer. It could have happened to anybody, right?

We want to hear about your most embarrassing workplace gaffe. Email us, talk@npr.org. Remember: Don't hit reply all. And if you have questions about the saga of the secret iPhone, give us a call at 800-989-8255.

Later this hour, we'll remember civil rights pioneer Dorothy Height. But first, the secret iPhone. Joining us now by phone from his office in New York City is Nick Denton, founder and publisher of Gawker Media, which owns Gizmodo. Nick Denton, nice to have you today on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. NICK DENTON (Founder, Publisher, Gawker Media): Hi, how's it going?

CONAN: It's going fine. Can you tell us how this device made it from a barstool in the Bay Area to Gizmodo?

Mr. DENTON: We, as well as a couple of other websites, received an email last week with some blurry photographs of a device that looked like a rather hard-edged version of the current iPhone. And we were initially skeptical, but as we looked into it further, then it became more and more apparent that this was quite possibly the next-generation iPhone.

CONAN: And I gather this was sort of a bidding process.

Mr. DENTON: Sorry, could you repeat that?

CONAN: A bidding process. Was it up for sale?

Mr. DENTON: It wasn't explicitly up for sale. You know, we've never made any secret of the fact that if the story demands it, we will give rewards, bounties for exclusive stories like this one. And we offered $5,000 to the contact, to the middleman, and took a look at having taken a look at the phone, and the closer we looked, the more genuine it looked.

CONAN: $5,000, has that paid off for you?

Mr. DENTON: It doesn't work like that exactly. People have assumed that because we'll have a massive traffic rush, and you know, we've had about eight million page views to the three main stories in this saga, that the massive traffic rush converts automatically into advertising.

It doesn't really work like that, but of course, you know, we do it in our interests. This is a great way to get Gizmodo's name out there. It's a coup. It's probably the biggest tech scoop of the decade, and we're going to enjoy it for all of us.

CONAN: And of course, you had to be concerned whether the devices was: A, genuine, and B, whether it was a plant.

Mr. DENTON: Yeah, I suppose that was a possibility. Looking at the - a lot of the tech conspiracy theorists have been speculating that we are in league with Apple or that Apple had left it there in order to get buzz going before the launch.

But if you actually think about the history of Apple and their reputation of being an extremely secretive company, you know, they have never, ever leaked significant information before a product launch. At the maximum, they've just given guidance to writers, reporters off the record. So it would be entirely out of character for them, and beyond that, it's just not true.

CONAN: Here's an email we got from Adam in Kansas: As interesting as it is to get a sneak peek anything next generation from Apple, it seems easy to ignore that this was an act of theft both of the individual phone and of corporate intellectual property. Gizmodo appears to be complicit in the crime. I wonder how you respond.

Mr. DENTON: Our understanding was always that this device was lost rather than stolen, and I'm sure you've seen the communication from Apple. You know, there hasn't been, at least not yet, any suggestion from them that they're pursuing as having been a theft.

CONAN: So they are considering it a case of recovered lost property?

Mr. DENTON: The letter that we received from them yesterday, claiming the property as their own, just simply stated that it was their property and that we should return it.

CONAN: And is the device now in a FedEx box on its way back to Cupertino?

Mr. DENTON: Well, actually, their general counsel, the official who sent us the letter, came around personally to Jason Chen's house, one of our correspondents in Silicon Valley, and picked it up.

CONAN: Ah, so it's back in Apple's hands at this point. Any reaction other than, well, the sort of corporate exasperation?

Mr. DENTON: You know, they haven't even actually shown any corporate exasperation. I think a lot of journalists were finding it frustrating yesterday because we released the pictures of this new, next-generation iPhone in the morning. In the evening, we released the name of the engineer that we thought had actually lost the device in a beer cellar in Redwood City, but Apple weren't commenting, weren't responding to anybody's inquiries, you know, not from the blogs, not from the New York Times.

CONAN: And finally, this was an exchange that one of our listeners named Joe had with Jesus Diaz, who's going to be on with us just in a moment, but this was about outing the name of the engineer responsible, the man who went to celebrate his 27th birthday in a bar and left this device on the barstool mistakenly. He said: You guys haven't given a good reason for outing this guy. As it stands, you look like jerks.

Mr. DENTON: I can see that. The he's at the center of one of the most amazing tech stories of the last few years, you know, an Apple prototype phone has never been lost before. I think it would be naive for anybody to assume that the person who left the phone, who left this precious device in a bar after an alcohol-fueled birthday party, it would be naive to assume this person wouldn't be exposed.

CONAN: It presumes Apple knows who it was.

Mr. DENTON: Yes.

CONAN: All right. Nick Denton, thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. DENTON: Thank you.

CONAN: Nick Denton, founder and publisher of Gawker Media, which owns Gizmodo, joined us today by phone - maybe he'd want to get one of those new iPhones from his office in New York.

Joining us now also by phone from New York is Jesus Diaz, senior contributing editor of Gizmodo. He's gotten his hands on the iPhone prototype. Nice to have you with us today.

Mr. JESUS DIAZ (Senior Contributing Editor, Gizmodo): Hello, how are you doing?

CONAN: I'm well, thank you. The engineer carrying the phone, apparently it was packaged so it could pass off as an iPhone 3GS, one of those that's out on the market now.

Mr. DIAZ: Yeah, it was enclosed in this fake iPhone 3GS enclosure. The guy who found the phone, he believed it was an actual - the actual iPhone 3GS. And then it was the next morning when he actually upon closer inspection, he discovered it was a fake, and inside there was a new iPhone.

CONAN: And how new is it? How different is it?

Mr. DIAZ: Well, it's completely new. As you can imagine, this is what's inside a fake iPhone 3GS. It's much smaller. The screen is a little bit smaller. The (unintelligible) is thinner, and you know, the current iPhone, it's a little bit like a Taiwanese telephone. Like, it's like all plastic, and it feels like really plasticky in your hand.

CONAN: Yeah, a little toy-like, yeah.

Mr. DIAZ: yeah, a little toy-like, and it's kind of out-of-place with the whole Apple product line, which is more square and more German, if you will. And this new iPhone really fits very well with the iPad and the other products on the Apple line. It really feels really very solid and a stoic design.

CONAN: Could you make calls on it?

Mr. DIAZ: No, no. The phone was completely when we got it, we didn't even know it was the real thing because we couldn't check at the beginning if it was real or not. It was after we tried a lot of things that we were able to get it to this screen, which is called connect to iTunes's screen. You know, people who have iPhones are familiar with this, or iPods. And it's it simply indicates that the phone is locked, and you have to connect it to a computer to try to restore it. But it wasn't possible to restore it. So we couldn't make any calls or access the operating system.

CONAN: We're talking with Jesus Diaz of Gizmodo, a contributing editor there, about the saga of the secret iPhone. In just a few minutes, though, we're going to be taking your questions, your stories, rather, about business gaffes of your own. But we have a caller on the line from Naples, Florida. Rick(ph) is with us. Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today, Rick.

RICK (Caller): Hello. I believe the circumstances to the finding of this phone and the release of this information are just too outrageous for it to be by chance. Doing public relations for more than two decades, Apple's secrecy over the past plays right into this publicity.

This is all over the airwaves worldwide. And I've heard about this before I would have heard about it from Steve Jobs even, when he does his releases.

CONAN: So you're smelling a stunt here.

RICK: Oh, of course, which is great, which is wonderful. It's all marketing. There's no deceit, no taking money out of people's pockets. It's just wonderful publicity.

CONAN: Jesus Diaz, are you victims of a stunt or abettors of a stunt here?

Mr. DIAZ: No, I don't think we are at all. You know, to pull that kind of thing, it would be great for a movie. You know, I would love...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: It's going to be a movie.

Mr. DIAZ: Huh?

CONAN: It's going to be a movie.

Mr. DIAZ: It could be, yeah, it could be a movie, but it wasn't really like "The Sting," like, you know, Paul Newman and Robert Redford playing us and Steve Jobs pulling this on us. I mean, that would be great, but the fact is, that's not the case. Apple is extremely, extremely protective of their news cycle. They always want to have control.

And, you know, to think that this is more this has more repercussion than a normal launch is also kind of naive. If you look back at the iPhone launches or the iPod launches, every single media, every single outlet out there, they cover them, and they get the same amount of publicity but on their own agenda.

And if it had to pick someone else to, you know, to make a leak like this, which is completely out of the question to me, it wouldn't have been Gizmodo because we are not Apple pals. We, you know, despite what many people may think, but we like the Apple products. But the thing is that Apple doesn't have us in the, you know, in the best friend...

CONAN: What has happened to the engineer? Is he still working at Apple?

Mr. DIAZ: Well, our information is that he's still working at Apple, but we don't have any (unintelligible) information that, but we are pretty certain that he's still there.

CONAN: Jesus Diaz, thanks very much for your time today, appreciate it.

Mr. DIAZ: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Jesus Diaz, senior contributing writer at - excuse me, senior contributing editor at Gizmodo, joined us today by phone from New York. You can find links to Gizmodo's posts about the so-called secret iPhone on our website, as well as their photos comparing the current model with the prototype. That's all at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

The Apple engineer who left his phone on the barstool is not the only person who's ever made a boneheaded mistake. Up next, what is your biggest workplace blunder? Fess up, and yes, I've had a moment or two where I'm not terribly proud of. We'll revisit one of those, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

A young Apple software engineer loses a top secret prototype of the next-generation iPhone, a website takes it apart and posts pictures of it on the web - but hey, we've all made work-related mistakes, right?

You replied all to an email, Your boss overhead you complain about him. You made, well, an inadvertent but regrettable and very public mistake, like I did a few years ago: Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax reform, a small-minded a small government advocacy group. We reached him at their offices in Washington, D.C.

All right, I called Grover Norquist after that and apologized. He couldn't have been more gracious about it. But tell us your biggest workplace gaffe, your biggest mistake if you've lived to tell the tale. Email us, talk@npr.org. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. And you can join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And Jordan's(ph) calling us from Sierra Nevada in California.

JORDAN (Caller): Yeah, I was a young park ranger, and I had just graduated from the academy. And after field training, I was now allowed to go on patrol alone in a patrol car, and I was very proud of myself.

I guess suffice it to say that, you know, regardless of what people may think, that the medical kit in the back of the car and the gun on the guy's waist were not just for show. And park rangers, on any given shift, are likely to run into anything from unexpected childbirth to violent death and have to handle it alone.

So I was out that Saturday night, and I'd been assigned to a busy Southern California beach to learn the trade before I went back to the mountains. And I picked up a drunk driver and drove about 35 minutes north to go to the county jail and book them. And, you know, at the jail, there's a sally port, first an electric gate that opens into a yard and then an electric door that opens into a carport and closes with a clang behind you. And then there's a place you're supposed to lock up your gun because you're not allowed to carry guns into jails.

CONAN: Right.

JORDAN: And so I locked my gun up. I went inside. I filled out the paperwork. I booked my drunk driver, got back in my car, and I drove 35 minutes south, and it was now after midnight on a busy Saturday night. There had been a fight or two, a bunch of drunk drivers, a bunch of craziness, alcohol-fueled and drug-fueled craziness, and generally, things were just picking up to a peak.

So I went to 7-11 to get some coffee to stay awake, and I walked into the 7-11, and there, the old guy who had been out for years and years, was standing at the magazine rack reading Playboy, which he was prone to do, and it embarrassed me. I thought it was very unprofessional.

I looked over at him, and I was getting my coffee from the little dispenser, and he looked at me, and he smiled slightly, and he said: Where's your gun, kid?

(Soundbite of laughter)

JORDAN: No, I was in a marked patrol car, in uniform, on a busy Saturday night, and I was 35 minutes from my gun.

CONAN: Oh my gosh.

JORDAN: And I immediately left my coffee, walked back out to my vehicle and drove the 35 minutes, just hoping to God that nobody called me for backup in the meantime.

CONAN: And were you lucky enough to get away with it?

JORDAN: I actually got up there, and the thing that really bothered me was at the jail, when I got you have to buzz at the entrance to the gate to be let back in. And so I did that, and I got in, and I got the gun out, and then on the way out, I heard the loudspeaker come on, and there was laughing from the control room.

So I later wrote a memoir about this called "Nature Noir," but this story is too embarrassing to be in it, and I've never told it anywhere.

CONAN: Jordan, thanks for telling it to us, appreciate it.

JORDAN: Take care.

CONAN: We're talking with people who have made office gaffes, 800-989 workplace gaffes 800-989-8255, email us talk@npr.org. Deb's(ph) on the line calling from St. Louis.

DEB (Caller): Hi. I worked as a paralegal, a litigation paralegal in a firm with attorneys, who were a very unforgiving lot. And I was working with a managing attorney on this very complex case, and we were constantly going back and forth about what a moron the founding partner of the firm was, because he just didn't get the intricacies of this case, and we were just God, he's just so stupid, and he'd come in, you know, in his moment, flash of brilliance, and say you should do this. And then we'd have to sit there and tell him 10 reasons why we can't do that or whatever.

So something terrible had happened. So I go to pick up the phone, and I called the managing attorney's office, and I start just unloading, completely, about -how can he say to do this? He is such a moron. He is the biggest stupid person. How does he even get out of grade school, let along law school, blah, blah, blah.

And then I hear, over the speakerphone in her office: Hi, this is Jerry(ph), who is the managing partner.

CONAN: Oh my gosh.

DEB: He was sitting there the entire time and heard the entire thing. I mean, it was very common to do it but not really to the boss.

CONAN: But your stomach falls to the floor at that moment.

DEB: Yeah, I just pretty much wanted to die, and I left the firm pretty quickly thereafter of my own accord. I just couldn't really face him after that.

CONAN: I can understand. Deb, we hope you landed on your feet, though.

DEB: Thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an email we have, this from Jim(ph) in Richmond, Virginia: When I worked for a bus company, I forgot to set the parking brake on a bus I was working on. It rolled off the end of the service pit, took two big truck-wreckers to get it out of the hole.

Let's see if we can go next to this is John(ph), John with us from Cambridge in Massachusetts.

JOHN (Caller): Hi, I was a college counselor, and sometimes we'd counsel both the students and their parents. And one day, I was with a young woman and her mother, and I was telling her about this great college where, by your sophomore, you're basically guaranteed to have your own room.

And she insisted that she wanted to have roommates, and I said, well, this is even better than roommates because you'll have suitemates. So you'll have your own room, but, you know, off a common area, you'll have other friends who also have their own rooms.

But she kept insisting and insisting that she wanted to have roommates who shared her own room. And finally, I got so frustrated, I said, trust me, by the time you have a boyfriend, you will want to have your own bedroom. And I totally forgot that the mother was in the same room. And needless to say, she was none too happy about the comment. And the next day, my boss came and asked me if I'd actually made that comment to her, and I said had to admit that yeah, that was me.

CONAN: That was you, and your counseling days were over?

JOHN: No, no. She switched counselors, and yeah, I just admitted that it was a gaffe, and you know, these things happen, and fortunately, my boss was very understanding.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JOHN: And yeah, I kept counseling for many years after that and still do.

CONAN: Well, good, John, glad you could learn from your mistake.

JOHN: Yeah, it was a big one.

CONAN: Let's go - bye-bye let's go next to, this is Doug(ph), and Doug's with us from Rochester in Michigan - in Minnesota.

DOUG (Caller): Thank you, Neal. I'm a retired GM engineering designer. And in the early '90s, before a brand new F-car, which was the Camaro, was announced, an accurate sketch of it was published on the cover of the GM benefits booklet that was distributed to all GM employees, maybe 500,000 people.

CONAN: That's not a leak, that's a torrent.

DOUG: Well, it's kind of a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, if you can imagine that with GM.

CONAN: Oh, it's so hard to imagine, especially GM in the '90s, when all the decision was so sure-footed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DOUG: That's a good point.

CONAN: And so what was the what were the repercussions of this?

DOUG: Well, we didn't know. I was on the C-5 program, the Corvette program, and management typically is not very good at admitting mistakes and pointing fingers internally or externally. So we really didn't know what happened because of that. But that was the publication department somehow getting a hold of the studio sketches that were of this new car.

CONAN: Secret sketches of the new Camaro. Doug, thanks very much.

DOUG: You're welcome.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Thats perhaps the case we've had closest to the saga of the secret cell phone. Let's see if we can go next to Sara(ph), Sara with us from Boulder, Colorado.

SARA (Caller): Hi. I was working years ago, for a company called Cakewalk Music Software, and this is before iPhones or cell phones. And the telephone rang, and I answered it, and this man told me that he was John Entwistle from the band The Who.

CONAN: Sure, the bass player, yeah.

SARA: And I though, of course, it was Carl(ph) in marketing, and I hung up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SARA: And then the phone rang again, and he told me it was John Entwistle from The Who, and I hung up again. And the third time the phone rang, a man named Sy Langston(ph), who works for The Who, said he called me a lovely little name and said that I had better get Greg Hendershot(ph), our CEO, on the phone right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SARA: And I did.

CONAN: So it was a case of smashing your own guitar.

SARA: Yeah, I guess, something. I don't know. But we ended up working with Cakewalk worked with John, and I still kept my job. So that was good.

CONAN: That's good, Sara. Thanks very much for the call. Here's an email, this from Will(ph). He writes: I work for a demolition contractor and do all of the scheduling and project management. Due to a property line mix-up, I once instructed a crew to demolish the wrong garage. It quickly became evident it was the wrong one as there was a car inside it and an angry homeowner outside of it, as well.

800-989-8255, email talk@npr.org. Greg(ph) is on the line from Grand Rapids.

GREG (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Greg.

GREG: Hi. When I was working, oh, this was back in the '80s when, you know, the gold prices had gone up again.

CONAN: Yeah, like they are now.

GREG: The last time, yeah. And I worked at a precious metals refinery, and I was in charge of smelting and fire refining, and we had a gentleman come in that wanted, oh, like 50 pounds of gold filings put into metal and then purified into pure.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

GREG: Well, there's - when you do this, there's some loss that's experienced, you know, because you can't really tell what these filings are. So - and they were like six different crucibles. And once you use a crucible, that's it. So you take one, and for the sake of room, you put one hot one into another hot one and...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

GREG: ...things got a little bit mixed up. And I didn't dump one of them. So there was about seven and a half ounces of gold that was...

CONAN: Oh my.

GREG: ...didn't show up. But it was within the parameters of the, you know, the loss on the contract, just barely, but it made it.

CONAN: Ouch.

GREG: And - yeah. Ouch.

CONAN: Ouch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREG: And - but the guy was right there. You know, he was like he was glued me. I couldn't even move, you know, without hitting him. And I kept telling him to back off, you're making me nervous. And...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So it was his own fault.

GREG: Excuse me?

CONAN: It was his own darn fault.

GREG: Yes. That's what I figured. But we didn't find it until it was time to, you know, break up all the crucibles and then wash the dust and see if we could find some gold in it.

CONAN: And at that point, is it finders keepers?

GREG: Well, the gentleman had left the country. He was from India, and his family owned a large jewelry manufacturing.

CONAN: Concern, yeah.

GREG: (Inaudible) yeah, here in Michigan. And he took off.

CONAN: Alright, well...

GREG: He went back to India, you know?

CONAN: Your lucky day, I guess.

GREG: Well, you know, it was - I gave it to my boss. And, you know, I guess that's where our bonuses came from.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Greg, thanks very much. And we'd like to thank everybody who called and wrote to us. This final email from Jay in Rockford, Illinois: I once worked as an administrative assistant for a man who asked me to pay his personal bills -gas, electric, mortgage, et cetera. He also had me write out his alimony checks to his two ex-wives. They did not get the same amount. Once I accidentally sent them the wrong checks. They could both see what the other was getting. This landed my boss back in alimony court. I got reassigned to a different role in the office. It actually worked out great for me since I was essentially promoted from secretary to manager, and my boss survived as well. He got a new administrative assistant, but he paid his own bills from then on.

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