Gray Powell, the Apple employee outed byfor losing the next-generation iPhone prototype, is probably not having his best week ever. After all, Apple is known for their secrecy, and they expected the utmost of care when prototypes were taken outside of their facility — witness the elaborate 3GS disguise Gray’s phone was found wearing. As the world now knows, Gray managed to lose his prototype, ultimately resulting in it being sold to the highest (or only) bidder – Gizmodo. We’re sure he’ll probably lose his job, and he may be in even more trouble than simply economic … who knows what the litigious Apple might dream up, short of putting Gray’s head on a pike as a warning to all who enter Cupertino. Yes, there are likely several people living in or around Cupertino who are not having a good week because of Gray’s screw-up.
And what a screw-up it was.
There is another way one might look at this, however. One could argue that Apple should pat Gray on the back, give him a raise, and say “thank you, thank you, thank you!” Because Gray’s forgetfulness, neglect, drunken idiocy on his 27th birthday — whatever you want to call it — has actually achieved a great deal for Apple. They have been dominating the media cycle for the last four days, once again.
Let’s look at how this plays out.
Right before CES, Apple announced that they were going to have a special meeting … and everyone’s educated guess was that Apple would finally announce their tablet. Apple’s tablet cloud hung over CES the entire time; we know — we were there! Shortly thereafter Apple announced the iPad, and for the next weeks it dominated the technology sites. When the iPad finally came out, it dominated the technology media cycle once again. No sooner was the iPad out and in the middle of its own media frenzy, did Apple announced that they were having another news conference. At that news conference they announced iPhone OS 4.0, and for the next week or so they dominated the news cycle yet again. Last Tuesday they upgraded the hardware of the MacBook Pro line, and for a few days they buzzed the media cycle again, but it was rather ho-hum in comparison. And yes, Apple also got a little more traction by announcing that they would be having a gathering late June (hello iPhone!), but between now and then — other than the release of the 3G iPad at the end of April — not much else was expected from Apple.
Nothing exciting, that is, until Applegate occurred this past weekend. On Saturday and Sunday the blogosphere was filled with news and debate over whether or not the piece of hardware that was found in a bar was new hardware for the iPhone. By Monday morning. It was clear that it was indeed the next generation iPhone, and the news kept pouring in. Only now there was a big difference — the news was not only coming out of the blogosphere, it was coming from mainstream news channels as well. All anyone was talking about was and is the next generation iPhone. And today, once again, when we look at our RSS feeds and Twitterstream — from every corner of the web and from every type of site — there is discussion about the fourth generation iPhone, the circumstances under which it was found, and what it means for the iPhone brand.
Let’s face it, Apple may be fuming because their usual secrecy was blown apart by Gray’s unfortunate birthday mishap, but because of that mistake they have received more PR attention than they could ever have purchased. Even with the greatest PR company, with the hippest and costliest ad campaign, there is nothing that could have possibly garnered them more attention than this one simple mistake.
We suspect that many of you, like the entire Gear Diary Team, can’t help but wonder — even if only just a tiny bit — whether this was truly a mistake or whether this was an elaborate hoax engineered by Apple to judge the public’s reaction to a drastic redesign on their only model mobile phone. Our opinions are mixed, because this type of concern for the buying public’s opinion has never been shown by Apple. So if this truly was a pure mistake by a celebrating Apple Software Engineer, then it should still go down as one of the most unforgettable (even if unintentional) marketing campaigns ever. Once Apple has stopped beating Gray up for his careless mistake, they ought quietly give him a gold star and a bit of job security, because $49 billion in cash could never buy as much attention as he got them for free.