Apple’s Big Surprise: iPhone 4G Revealed 60 days ahead of schedule ‘by mistake’ (Update: Or was it stolen?)

Stop the clocks!

It’s time to find out almost everything about the all new iPhone due to be announced in mid-June. At least, it certainly looks that way. For Gizmodo, you see, has what amounts to as Stefan from IntoMobile describes it — the mobile industry scoop of the year: A pre-production next generation iPhone handset.

Here’s a 9-second video to whet your appetite…

So, let’s take a step back. Here’s the background. On Saturday evening, Engadget scooped the planet with the blog post ‘iPhone 4G: Is this it?‘. Of course the image was predictably blurry and highly dubious.

Until 10am today when Jason Chen of Gizmodo published This Is Apple’s Next iPhone. Here’s a screenshot complete with Jason and the iPhone:

And here are some super-resolution photos of the device:

Jason reports that the iPhone …

was found lost in a bar in Redwood City [California], camouflaged to look like an iPhone 3GS. We got it. We disassembled it. It’s the real thing, and here are all the details.

It is, apparently, a 4th-generation prototype. The Gizmodo chaps have disassembled the device and spotted Apple components. They appear to believe it is entirely genuine.

There are a number of issues to consider here. Why would Apple — who are famed for their zealous security policies — allow a pre-production iPhone out in the wild? Could an Apple employee actually lose such a device? If I was carrying one out in the wild, I’d have it glued to one of those satellite tracker things you get for cars and motorbikes. And I’d never, ever lose it. I just.. you know, I’d keep it ON me. IN my pocket. At ALL times. Some of the comments on Gizmodo explain that it’s necessary to actively test the device out in the real world. Of course it is. By all means do your testing. Just don’t leave it behind. How stupid could you be to actually ‘lose’ an iPhone?

Unless, of course — and now it’s time to crank up the spin to 11 — this was precisely what Apple intended. Having already delivered the 4.0 operating system announcement, the Monday morning 10am post from Gizmodo has predictably set the mobile industry alive with speculation.

It’s also effectively neutered the upcoming announcements by other handset manufacturers desperate to jump ahead of the Apple hype. Instead of collectively wondering if the next generation iPhone will sport a flash, or a front-facing camera, it now appears the answer is yes and yes.

And there’s a whole lot more to know. Here’s what Gizmodo reckon is new:

• Front-facing video chat camera
• Improved regular back-camera (the lens is quite noticeably larger than the iPhone 3GS)
• Camera flash
• Micro-SIM instead of standard SIM (like the iPad)
• Improved display. It’s unclear if it’s the 960×460 display thrown around before—it certainly looks like it, with the “Connect to iTunes” screen displaying much higher resolution than on a 3GS.
• What looks to be a secondary mic for noise cancellation, at the top, next to the headphone jack
• Split buttons for volume
• Power, mute, and volume buttons are all metallic

Head over to the rather exhaustive Gizmodo post and read some more.

They’re consummate PR geniuses over at Apple so I wouldn’t be surprised if this was — in some way — created by Apple. At least, even if it wasn’t, if I was the PR, I’d be tapping noses and delivering my best coy looks in response to any such questions, because this is a heck of a lot more palatable than ‘yeah, one of our idiot staffers left it in a bar in Redwood City‘.

Whether deliberate or not, I wonder what Apple’s strategy will be come launch day. We usually have some kind of dodgy photos and ‘speculating’ analysts commenting in the week or so leading up to the Steve Jobs keynote, but to have got a look at the (apparent) full package almost two months before the public launch date is both disappointing and exciting.

It’s disappointing because — admit it — Steve Jobs Apple Keynotes are some of the only events that grown males can get genuinely excited about. Now there doesn’t appear to be much to be surprised about. Although, we haven’t yet seen the thing working — and I’m sure there will be a few interesting things to demonstrate, not least the screen itself. Gizmodo reckons the resolution is simply fantastic.

I for one thing the device looks pretty cool. I’ll have one.

Check out what Stefan from IntoMobile has to say on the subject too.

Update: So, just to keep the story spinning nicely, the iPhone is now considered ‘stolen’. Of course this is all third-hand from a chap who apparently knows Apple pretty well. The Next Web reports:

Gruber goes onto clear up virtually any doubt that this is in fact the iPhone 4G. “That this belongs to and was made by Apple is almost beyond question at this point.”

He does however remain unsure as to whether this is exactly the design Apple will ship this summer.

Ooookay. Expect this one to run for a little while.

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