A few thoughts on the “next iPhone” story

It’s been an interesting few days for the digerati. First Engadget posted some pictures over the weekend of what was purported to be the next iPhone. They came from a source who had apparently acquired the phone after it was left in a bar. Other sites first debunked them as a KIRF but later analysis looked like they were real. Yesterday, Gizmodo published a lengthy piece, including video of them with the device along with details of the Apple engineer who apparently left the device in a bar by accident. Finally, the incident appeared to have ended with a letter from Apple politely asking Gizmodo for their device back. Just to show how silly the whole story got, the NY Times reported on the whole process of the reporting. As we say on Twitter #sheesh

It seems for most of the day, this was a key story for the digerati. Was what Gizmodo did ethical? Was this a marketing ploy by Apple to take some of the attention of the launch of the HTC Incredible? were among the many topics debated.

Here’s my $.02 for what it’s worth.

I find it interesting that a non working prototype device gets more attention than most shipping products do. Anyone not taking Apple seriously in the mobile space is making a huge mistake.
The idea that Apple somehow orchestrated this is just silly IMHO. Some folks are just watching too many Oliver Stone movies. Seriously, do you think Apple could somehow magically time this so the story broke the same day that Verizon launched the HTC Incredible? Apple conspiracy theories are fun and this may be among the funniest.

I have mixed feelings about how Gizmodo handled the scoop. Brian Lam is someone I consider a friend but I’m not sure I agree with how the site handled the story. It is easy, however for me to criticize his actions. I’m not in his shoes and I don’t have to make the same calls he did under a tight deadline. Brian and his staff do have an obligation to their organization and their readers. I’ve talked in the past that I’m not fond of the whole “race to be first” that’s taken over much of the tech blogging world. I’m not sure that if I were in Brian’s shoes I would have handled things differently, although I like to think I would have.

At the end of the day, if there weren’t audience for this type of story, the story wouldn’t be written. Given the amount of traffic that’s at stake (and the dollars that traffic generates) I wonder how many would have passed on the scoop given the chance. One thing I’m pretty certain of, there was no reason for Gizmodo (at least as far as I can see) to put a public face on the Apple engineer who left the device in the bar. I expect that poor fellow has enough to deal with without the need to be embarrassed in public.

When all is said and done, we don’t really know all that much about the next device. Any device is about the sum of all the parts both hardware and software. Sure, we have a pretty good idea what might be coming but I suspect there’s still a lot more that we don’t know.

So what do you think? Did Gizmodo or Engadget step over a line here? What would you have done if you were the editor in chief of those sites? And perhaps a better question, did you follow the stories as the events broke? If you did, perhaps that’s one reason why the stories got written.

13 responses to “A few thoughts on the “next iPhone” story

  1. i think that it was planted there by apple, and i am not even sure if it is the final version. (the visible screws on the side of the phone don’t convince me, it’s not something apple does with their designs). the legal letter also seemed kind of bland and manufactured.

    but also gizmodo shouldn’t have posted info about the guy. then again they are run by gawker who is in the business of gossip, so it’s not surprising that they run a story on the “person” that did it if it was real.

  2. Yes.

    Sent from my iPhone.

    Seriously, publishing someone’s legitimate secret is NOT journalism. Gizmodo sucks.

  3. I don’t know if it’s out of line or not, but paying for access to an unreleased device seems like a risky move from a legal standpoint. Giz is in the business of page views and exposure – and they hit the mother lode. But if Apple comes after them, that revenue bump won’t have been worth it. The real schmuck, and possible target of Apple’s wrath, is the guy(s) peddling the device. If truly “found”, he/they should have immediately blogged themselves and given it back the next day. Tearing it apart and looking for buyers is pretty damning.

  4. When I was in journalism school, one of the first things we learned was that news paid for is news that’s compromised. There is never an ethical way to pay for news. That Gizmodo paid doesn’t surprise me. Just another reason I don’t read their website.

    As for outing the engineer who lost the device, I’m sure he was already in trouble before that happened. But still it’s beyond the pale to kick him while he’s down. It’s not like he did something intentionally. It shows how low Brian Lam will stoop for page hits. Around 150 years ago they called it yellow journalism. It was a major demonstration of a lack of class on Gizmodo’s part.

  5. While I followed the story all day on twitter after reading the original story on Gizmodo (I’m a regular visitor there) it is still a story that Gizmodo had to go with. I do feel bad for the engineer that lost the phone.

    What I found incredible was the amount of traffic that generated not because of the actual device but because of the ethical questions surrounding the acquisition of the device.

    There such an appetite for Apple news in general and you add the juicy conspiracy theories, Tech rivalries, jealousy, envy and fanboyism (Apple, Tech Blog alike) it made for the perfect storm of stories.

    Bottom line is that Gizmodo reported what it had to report. We will never know if Engadget declined to bid for it or was outbid because of their rivalry with Gizmodo. The Engadget crew was quiet on the subject on Twitter and only referenced the story as confirmation to their leaked pictures post over the weekend.

    Does that mean they didn’t agree with Gizmodo’s actions or they just knew they got beaten on this story?

    As an contributor to Engadget maybe Michael can shed some light on that aspect of the story.

  6. I disagree and think it was good to out the guy for one reason: It might help save his job.

    Apple could have easily fired this guy if his name were not public. He could have been gone yesterday and no one outside of Apple would have known any better. But now that his name and picture are everywhere, Apple would bring on a whole new set of problems if they fire the guy. We’ll all know about it.

    Now, I’m sure that if given the choice, he would never want to be outed by Gizmodo. But now that he has, he does have a bit of celebrity status and his job, in my opinion, seems a little safer now.

  7. I followed the story from the start, so I guess I’m as responsible as everyone else that did, for creating the demand that led to this behaviour.

    Initially I was glued to this breaking story, and cheering plucky Gizmodo for their scoop (esp in the face of the ‘managed leaks’ and embargoes-with-exceptions that are now so common in the industry, and have proven so frustrating to these guys).

    But after a while it felt like it had all gone too far. Paying for the scoop is probably a grey area. Publishing the young engineer’s name and details was unfair though, and was wrong. Seems to me there could have been more of a show of alacrity in returning the device too; I would personally like to think anyone finding my property would return it promptly. The designers and engineers that created and built this device deserve the same courtesy.

  8. Even if it saves his job, the guy is now known as “the guy who lost the iPhone” all around Cupertino and it’s going to be the top Google hit for any employer on any job interview he has in the immediate future. It’s irresponsible journalism for Gawker to do this and they probably know it and don’t care.

  9. Let’s look at the fact pattern. All of this is now in the public record, per Gizmodo themselves.

    Some unknown person acquires a prototype iPhone by some unknown means. He claims to have found it in a bar.

    Does he turn it in where he putatively found it? No.

    Does he attempt to find out who owns it? Yes, apparently before it was remote wiped he discovered who owned it by looking at the Facebook app.

    Did he attempt to return it to the rightful owner? No.

    Did he sell something he did not own to a third party? Yes.

    Did the third party (Gizmodo, in this case) *know* that the person who was selling the phone did not own it? Yes.

    At this point, according to California law, the person who found the phone is a thief (http://bit.ly/9O0CFB) and the person/organization who bought the phone has knowingly received stolen goods. It doesn’t matter if you later return it; you’ve still broken the law.

    That’s two felonies, right there. How can this be anything like close call on the ethics front? This behaviour, on the part of everyone involved, is simply *wrong*.

    You need to call your friend Brian, and give him some wise council, because he’s very, very close to ending up in serious trouble over something that just isn’t worth it.

  10. @ Mark: One site reported that Nilay Patel of Engadget said he thought it was theft or receiving stolen property under California law to do what the finder and Gizmodo did. I don’t know if Nilay played a role in Engadget’s decision or actons.

    I, for one, followed some of this news from other sites, who were reporting on Gizmodo. I only use Gizmodo for reporting Apple events since they are quickest with photos, but I will not be returning to Gizmodo ever again.

    By the way, just because people want to read these types of stories doesn’t justify or excuse the means that “journalists” use to get them.

  11. @Kevin

    In a world were TMZ is becoming more popular as a news source the legality of how new items (phones, pictures, videos) are acquired is in the process of being re-defined. All media sources pay to interviews, video, etc..

    In this case, of course the engineer is going to say the phone got stolen (Whether true or not I don’t claim to know). And the person the sold it to Gizmodo is going to say he found it on a bar stool (again whether it is true or not I don’t claim to know). The reality is that we will never know.

    If there is legal action taken against Gawker media then it will be up to both parties to prove it their stories. My personal opinion is that unless Apple has a witness supporting the theft story they have no grounds.

    I wish Gizmodo hadn’t published the engineer’s name. But I do understand that his name would eventually come out in the media and as a business Gizmodo could support the legitimacy of their story by being the source to report it.

  12. I share your sentiments about this whole fiasco. As much as I cherish a new tech scoop, I think it’s extreme low form for Gizmodo to publish the engineer’s name and info. There’s simply no rational need for that. I’m still not sure what they’ve accomplished by doing this other than to alienate loyal readers like me. I (and many others) have vowed never to return to Gizmodo because of this. The spike in visits during this episode will hardly make up for the loss of ongoing readership. Also, their response to Apple legal is childish at best. I understand their position is of humor and lightheartedness. However, when you’re dealing with a serious situation, you need to step up and deal with it with maturity. Thanks for a great blog!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s