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Gray Powell, Steve Jobs and the silver lining in Apple's lost iPhone fiasco

Posted by andreaitis on April 19, 2010

You are about to forever know the name Gray Powell.

Gizmodo posted this story Monday morning:

This Is Apple's Next  iPhone
You are looking at Apple’s next iPhone. It was found lost in a bar in Redwood City, camouflaged to look like an iPhone 3GS. We got it. We disassembled it. It’s the real thing, and here are all the details.
via Gizmodo

They published all those details — and pictures — while shockwaves rocked the interwebs richter scale.  Gizmodo’s Jason Chen and Jesus Diaz reported what’s new: “Front-facing video chat camera.”  They documented what’s changed: “The back is entirely flat, made of either glass (more likely) or ceramic or shiny plastic in order for the cell signal to poke through.”  They solidified their place in Apple history and Steve Jobs’ long-term memory.   The story received 6,485 diggs, and was  retwittered 27, 096 times.  Colossal.

It was followed by another story: How Apple lost the Next iPhone.  And, more specifically, who lost the next iPhone.  Enter Gray Powell.

The 27-year-old Powell—a North Carolina State University 2006 graduate and talented amateur photographer—is an Apple Software Engineer working on the iPhone Baseband Software, the little program that enables the iPhone to make calls.

On the night of March 18, he was enjoying the fine imported ales at Gourmet Haus Staudt, a nice German beer garden in Redwood City, California. He was happy. The place was great. The beer was excellent. “I underestimated how good German beer is,” he typed into the next-generation iPhone he was testing on the field, cleverly disguised as an iPhone 3GS. It was his last Facebook update from the secret iPhone. It was the last time he ever saw the iPhone, right before he abandoned it on bar stool, leaving to go home.
via Gizmodo

Steve Jobs was already having a tough week.  Self-proclaimed nerd Paul Shadwell was frustrated by a  delay in the iPad’s international release.  He sent an email to Steve Jobs expressing his concern and overall Apple anxiety.  Not only did Steve Jobs respond to the email, he got right to the point.

“deliberately pulling the wool over the rest of the worlds eyes”

Are you nuts? We are doing the best we can. We need enough units to have a responsible and great launch.

via A Letter to Steve Jobs

On top of that there’s a Steve Jobs backlash brewing over Apple’s walled garden and rigid guidelines for developers.  Plus,  the Off-Broadway show Notes Toward the Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs premieres on April 22 for a one-night-only run.  So, really, did Steve Jobs need this lost-and-found-and-bought-by-Gizmodo-for-$5-to-$10K iPhone drama?  Hardly.

Still, as the sun sets on this day in iPhone history, there is a silver lining.  It comes to us not through Apple but a different kind of next-gen tech:  Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.  You see, Gray Powell now has a Facebook Fan Page. On it he says:  “Hi, my name’s Gray and I work for Apple.  I also like beer.”    Under Phone he doesn’t list his number.  Nope, our Gray enters:  “Lost it.  😦 ”

Turns out Gray Powell is one  unlucky but funny and likable guy.  We all wondered, will Gray would be reprimanded or even fired?  Will Steve call him directly, yell at him, tell him how disappointed he is in his beer-goggled goof?   Will he survive this horrid embarrassment or will he shatter like an iPhone screen when you accidentally drop it on the cold, hard, unforgiving sidewalk of life?

Seems Gray Powell bounces.  And  instead of ruining Steve Jobs’ week he may have saved it.   I don’t know how the Facebook Page came to be, if it was created by Gray or (god forbid) a brilliant Apple marketing move.  Either way, a PR disaster is now a quirky and personable mistake.  Through Gray Powell Apple can be human, Steve Jobs can be kind and forgiving.   It wasn’t so long ago the interwebs was on high-alert,  in single-minded support as Steve Jobs battled cancer.   But public opinion is like that volcano over in Iceland.  Once it starts spewing, it takes a while for the ash cloud to lift.   What lesson do we learn?  Things happen. Sometimes people across the country wait in line all night long to be the first to buy a brand new sight-unseen device.  And, once in a while, a next-gen iPhone gets left on a bar stool after too many beers.  There but for the grace of Jobs…

You go, Gray.

Gray "iPhone Loser" Powell

Update:  Sadly, it’s beginning to look like the Facebook page is actually a poorly executed stunt.

This is Gray’s new status update:

Sounds like a marketing person trying to sound like a guy who drinks German beer and builds iPhones.   Meanwhile, I posted a question directly on the Facebook page:  “hey gray – did you create this page on your own or is it an apple marketing effort?”

No answer.

Ah, Gray, you’re in a tough spot.    Did you happen to build an app for that?

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