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German beer blasts hole through Apple's security core

The Local · 21 Apr 2010, 09:13

Published: 21 Apr 2010 09:13 GMT+02:00

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Powell, who was helping build the software for the new-generation Apple iPhone, was enjoying a few beers for his 27th birthday on March 18 at the Gourmet Haus Staudt in California on March.

In fact he was so enjoying the pure blend of hops, water and barley, that he left the cutting edge prototype phone, which he had been given to “field test” on the bar stool.

Within a few weeks, technology web magazine Gizmodo had acquired the prototype for US$5,000 (€3,700) and was reporting on its every detail – making a mockery of Apple’s tight security, which includes a special team of guards at the firm’s offices and plants to make sure no information about new products is leaked.

Apple is famously secretive about its products before they are launched. It relies on the “big bang” effect of a major announcement by boss Steve Jobs to whip up frenzied attention and profit from the massive publicity.

But best laid plans couldn’t contend with beer brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot purity laws – by which beer must contain just water, barley and hops.

Powell was having his 27th birthday in the German pub, 30 kilometres from Apple’s Infinite Loop headquarters, on March 18.

According to Gizmodo, Powell’s last Facebook update on the phone – which was disguised as a regular iPhone for the field test – read: “I underestimated how good German beer is.”

Shortly afterwards, he left the pub, with the phone still sitting on his barstool.

A bystander picked it up. He did, according to Gizmodo, wait around to hand it back to its rightful owner, and at first had no nefarious intentions. He planned to return it to Powell the following day and even called Apple to find out how he could return it but got the runaround.

"I thought it was just an iPhone 3GS," he told the magazine. "It just looked like one. I tried the camera, but it crashed three times."

When the phone went dead, he opened it up and discovered the outer casing was fake – a disguise to make it look like an ordinary iPhone 3GS. Inside was the revolutionary new prototype.

Story continues below…

The magazine has done a full analysis of the phone, its innards and its features – all of which it has begun to report.

Gizmodo also issued a plea for Apple not to fire the young engineer. After all, mistakes happen, especially when German beer is involved.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

10:19 April 21, 2010 by dcgi
I think Gizmodo paid more like $10k for it (still seems cheap), but forgetting that I think most people agree that Gizmodo were absolutely out of line naming the poor guy who left his phone, Gizmodo had screenshots of his facebook page etc.

Now it seems like they've woken up to what a bunch of douches they've been about releasing the information and realise that the poor guy who made a simple mistake of misplacing the phone is in danger of getting canned for it, yes of course Apple would know who lost the phone but the point is the way Gizmodo went about it only makes it more likely that the guy will get fired because of it.

They should have released the photos and never mentioned his name, maybe next time they'll act with a little more maturity, idiots.
12:17 April 21, 2010 by mobiusro
Why would you publish his name as well? Gizmodo already did the same stupid mistake. How is that fair to make his name known in the whole world? Can't blame him if he turns into a serial killer with the sole intent of killing journalists.
12:56 April 21, 2010 by Ectherion
"Gizmodo also issued a plea for Apple not to fire the young engineer. After all, mistakes happen"

Mistakes happen??? C'mon, they should fire him all right. I mean, yes, u can get drunk, yes, u can lose your wallet, but to run around withand expensive/secret/prototipe machine and go to the bar.... well... I normally don't get drunk while I carry my laptop...

As per Gizmodo, they only let "us" to know who was the as"§$§e, I'm quite sure that Apple didn't take too long to figure out who lose the prototipe.
17:42 April 21, 2010 by Meringer
I think the whole thing is a clever publicity stunt done on purpose. And even if it was just an accident, this whole incident has given Apple and it's new phone more free publicity than it could ever buy. They should give the guy a bonus.
18:27 April 21, 2010 by dcgi
@Meringer: everyone knows that Apple claim to be tightlipped and leak stuff by the backdoor, but for things like product launches they always use the big bang of a keynote speech to get everyone whipped up into a frenzy, I don't think a disguised iphone being found on a bar stool and bought by the idiots at Gizmodo was planned at all, understand that if Apple did want to leak it to someone they'd leak it to someone with more streetcred than this.
16:54 April 22, 2010 by IsGood
I'll bet Mr. Powell will never make that sort of mistake again, and it's unlikely that the people around him will, either. Hopefully Apple's management will recognize the value of the lesson, and of building trust with their employees, and not fire Mr. Powell.

There's a famous quote, along similar lines, attributed to the former head of IBM, Thomas Watson: ¦quot;Recently, I was asked if I was going to fire an employee who made a mistake that cost the company $600,000. No, I replied, I just spent $600,000 training him. Why would I want somebody to hire his experience?¦quot;
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