Last year, an iPhone 4 prototype went missing, or perhaps stolen is a more appropriate phrase, after an Apple engineer accidentally left it at a bar. As a result, Apple’s brand new iPhone 4 design wasn’t all that new when Steve Jobs unveiled it to the public last Summer.
And would you believe it, but a similar story may have befallen the iPhone 5.
Rumors surrounding a new teardrop styled iPhone 5 design have almost taken on a life of their own. Whether it be via leaked case schematics, alleged iPhone 5 case moldings, or even artist renderings, Apple fans have been fed a consistent stream of rumors which all point to a larger screen iPhone 5 poised to drop this Fall.
Next week, Apple will unveil its next-gen iPhone, and whether Apple will be releasing one iPhone model or two remains unknown. But what we do know, thanks to MIC Gadget, is how all of those drawings and case moldings depicting a tapered designed iPhone 5 came to fruition and began plastering the web at a furious pace.
In what shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, the origin of all those iPhone 5 renderings and cases, which purport to show an iPhone with a thinner, wider, and longer form factor, can be traced back to a stolen/missing iPhone prototype from Foxconn, Apple’s overseas manufacturing partner.
This iPhone prototype was allegedly hidden inside a current-generation iPhone 4 case to hide its true dimensions. You may remember that Apple employed a similar strategy, to no avail, with the iPhone 4 in that it was field tested inside a case resembling an iPhone 3GS.
In any event, the device in question was reportedly a “finalized iPhone 5 chassis featuring the tear-drop design.” Notably, and perhaps tellingly, this device is believed to have housed “slightly modified iPhone 4 electronics with components such as the A4 chip and even the same amount of memory.”
And so just like that, an iPhone prototype went missing. Again.
With its past experience, one might think Apple would have been able to track that prototype down in a heartbeat. However, Apple was outsmarted. The person who had access to the prototype wiped the phone’s software, thus disabling the GPS hardware needed to track it down.
Easy as pie.
Following that, the person who absconded with the device sold it to a case manufacturer for approximately $3,100. Foxconn was reportedly aware of the missing/stolen iPhone and subsequently punished various members of its management team.
We also heard from another source that the person who “lost” it was paid to do so. This case is similar to the iPad 2 leak reported back in June, where three men were jailed for stealing unreleased information about the Apple tablet.
This of course isn’t the first time we’ve seen reports of lost iPhone prototypes from Foxconn. Back in June of 2009, a Foxconn employee responsible for keeping track of 16 iPhone prototypes lost one. Unfortunately, the employee in question felt a tidal wave of pressure as a result and eventually committed suicide by jumping out of a 12 story apartment building.
The iPhone accessory business is a big deal, and millions of dollars can often rest on how quickly a company can release a new iPhone case design in the wake of a recently announced iPhone device. Consequently, case manufactures don’t often think twice about doling out a few thousand bucks to get a leg up on the competition.
Now, a few months after this apparent iPhone theft went down, a plethora of case manufacturers have already churned out a large number of iPhone 5 cases, with some claiming that they’ve already shipped thousands to consumers who apparently don’t mind getting a case before the product it’s supposed to protect even officially exists.
As far as we know, producing a mold for silicone cases costs tens of thousands of RMB and a mold for hard plastic cases costs even more. From the sheer variety of such cases already available for purchase, we are very sure that one or more of these case manufacturers have access to what is believed to be the prototype of the iPhone 5 with the finalized design. It is not simply getting tipped on the dimensions and shapes of the next iPhone to make the molds.
And such is the story of how one stolen iPhone 5 prototype begat what may prove to be a substantial leak as to a new iPhone design Apple may, or may not, unveil next week on October 4.
The original teardrop iPhone 5 mockup was published by This is my Next a few months ago.