by Tom Kaneshige

Sam Spade and The Case of the Found iPhone

Apr 19, 2010
MobileSmall and Medium Business

Apple's new iPhone has been left on a bar -- or not. It's a heckuva story, and we've got juicy new, ahem, details.

In the fictional movie The Maltese Falcon, the lovely Brigid O’Shaughnessy tells private detective Sam Spade, “I haven’t lived a good life. I’ve been bad, worse than you know.”

The street-wise Spade replies: “You know, that’s good, because if you actually were as innocent as you pretend to be, we’d never get anywhere.”

Much is the same in the cloak-and-dagger world of Apple where anything is possible yet often an illusion, where mystery carries client-vendor relationships to ever greater heights of euphoria. Forget reality.

In the latest twist, Gizmodo has a smoking gun: a supposed iPhone model expected this summer.

Rumors abound. The new iPhone was supposedly left at a bar in Redwood City. An entrepreneurial bartender may have sold the phone to Gizmodo for $10,000. Apple is hopping mad, calling for its return. An Apple exec says it’s a fake. Given Apple’s penchant for secrecy, is it even possible that an upcoming iPhone prototype could make its way out the door? It’s rumors about rumors at this point.

Well, here’s what really happened (in my best Sam Spade imitation):


It’s 2 a.m. at a speakeasy in Silicon Valley when the bartender begins clanging the bell. I should have left hours ago, along with those four venture capitalists in their Armani suits. But here I am at last call.

The woman walks toward me, looking straight out of a Sandra Bullock movie. The Blind Side. She wants to sell me a phone. Not just any phone. An iPhone prototype worth tens of thousands of dollars. She’s going to give me a deal at $10,000.

“Can you move it?” she asks.

“Is it real?”

“I got it off Larry’s yacht,” she says.

That’s Larry Ellison, a big fish in the valley, and good buddies with the elusive Steve Jobs, chief of all things Apple. Larry’s the kind of guy that could get something like this outside of Apple headquarters, the Fort Knox of the tech industry.

“I’ll take it,” I say, slipping her a bill of high society.

Even if it’s a fake or an Apple plant aimed at generating buzz, it looks real enough for the fanboys. I figure I can flip it and make some quick cash. After all, shady buyers are everywhere in this Chinatown of Apple rumors.

I’m wondering how many pageviews this iPhone can turn—pageviews, the currency of the Net set. So I put the word on the street, shop it around. The following bidding war scores five grand profit for me. But am I now in the clear?

If it’s not a plant, Apple won’t be happy. I know the dangers of these kinds of leaks. Goons throwing people out of buildings. Then again, five grand goes a long way in this economy, especially when I’m betting it all on Apple’s high-flying stock.

Tom Kaneshige is a senior writer for in Silicon Valley. Send him an email at Or follow him on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline.