When word first broke that Gizmodo had a next-gen iPhone in their possession, a lot of people initially questioned the veracity of the story, or at least Gizmodo’s explanation as to how they acquired the device. After all, why would the notoriously secretive Apple entrust one of its most closely guarded prototypes to a 27 year old engineer? For many, the story just didn’t add up.
A few hours later, there would be no more doubt. Gizmodo had, without question, scored one of the biggest scoops in tech history when they paid $5,000 for Apple’s fourth generation iPhone, which has also been referred to as the iPhone HD.
And even now that we have proof, some are still scratching their heads, wondering why such a young engineer was allowed to leave Apple’s campus with the device in the first place.
Well, you see, phones by their very nature require a lot more field testing under real world conditions than, say, a MacBook. Signal strength, call quality, and bandwidth rates can vary wildly from area to area, and Apple really has no choice but to arm a lucky number of employees with next-gen iPhones and send them on their way. Gray Powell was one of those individuals, and though his LinkedIn profile has since been removed, his job at Apple was to verify the iPhone’s baseband software. In a tweet from a few months ago, since set to private, Powell noted that he “finds bugs” and that’s he’s damn good at it.
Interestingly, a former Apple manager, speaking anonymously of course, told Bloomberg that Steve Jobs himself has to personally approve every person who carries a next-gen iPhone outside of Apple’s secretive walls.
Apple Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs personally monitors the so-called carry list of staff members allowed to take pre-release devices off the company’s campus, according to the former employee. Approved staff members must sign an additional confidentiality agreement, the person said.
While some have speculated that the recent iPhone faux pas will cause Apple to re-evaluate its testing methods, and that perhaps only high level executives will get access to pre-release devices, the reality is that Apple can’t afford that luxury. This incident is just something Apple will have to swallow, accept, and move on from.
Remember that in the months preceding the original iPhone launch in 2007, nearly 200 field technicians from AT&T were given iPhones for testing purposes. Over the course of a few weeks, they logged over 10,000 hours of phone usage, including 5,000 hours of voice calls alone and approximately 5GB of data usage. Would Jobs prefer that pre-release iPhones never leave 1 Infinite Loop? Sure, but he would much rather prefer a robust product that, you know, actually works.