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Apple Gets Back its iPhone, Gray Powell Turns into Cult Hero

The Flickr photostream page now says this: "gray_powell doesn't have anything available to you." Gizmodo

For Gray Powell's sake, let's hope that the beer was good.

As the world has since learned in the last 24 hours, Powell is the most famously unlucky software engineer in Silicon Valley today. (Typing in his name mid-afternoon Tuesday, more than 6.42 million mentions of Gray Powell came up.) After bringing a prototype of an upcoming iPhone to a birthday party at Gourmet Haus Staudt, a Redwood City, Calif., beer garden, Powell proceeded to hoist a few-and then forgot the super-secret unit on the bar.

"I underestimated how good German beer is," the 27 year-old typed into a Facebook update from his iPhone, according to Gizmodo. It must have been really wunderbar because Powell broke every book in the Apple rule book. It got worse when another patron at tech blog wound up with the iPhone and sold it to Gizmodo.

And so began a story that has fascinated the tech cognoscenti, where anything and everything related to Apple is pure catnip. Indeed, the guessing game is whether Apple has enough of a sense of humor about the incident to bring Powell on stage and help demo the unit when the product (presumably) debuts sometime later this summer. That would be a crowd-pleaser and Steve Jobs is enough of a showman to appreciate the PR windfall Apple would reap.

That doesn't mean it's going to happen. When it comes to product leaks, Apple reacts more sharply than other tech companies. In 2006, it lost its legal attempt to force two technology blogs - AppleInsider and Powerpage to reveal the sources of confidential information they used in their news stories about Apple.

CNET: Q&A with Nick Denton: How Gizmodo Got its iPhone Scoop
How Apple lost the next iPhone

Officially, Apple continues to treat this incident as a case of lost and found. The company made no mention of the incident during its second fiscal quarter Tuesday afternoon. Officially, Apple has not even acknowledged that this is a next-generation iPhone.

After Gizmodo ran stories with the photographs of the unit, Apple sent a carefully-worded letter to Gizmodo editorial director Brian Lam demanding the return of the "device."

"Dear Mr. Lam, it has come to our attention that Gizmodo is currently in possession of a device that belongs to Apple," wrote Bruce Sewell, Apple's senior vice president and general counsel. "This letter constitutes a formal request that you return the device to Apple. Please let me know where to pick up the unit."

The handover took place Monday night. In the meantime, Powell has become something of a celebrity on Twitter, where the wisenheimers are in rare form: My personal favorite: "I went drinking with Gray Powell and all I got was a lousy iPhone prototype..."

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