Is This Apple’s Next iPhone? Yeah, Sure, Why Not

For the past few weeks Apple parts have been leaking left and right. Today, about three weeks before we expect the new iPhone to launch, iResq has rebuilt the new iPhone from spare parts, showing the new connector (a micro USB-sized port that I predicted a month ago) and a slightly longer screen. The glut of photos of this new model point to a few things, most importantly Apple’s new role in the supplier ecosystem.

Remember two years ago when Apple security and local police literally busted down Jason Chen’s door and stole his computers at Apple’s behest? That was when Steve Jobs was still at the helm and security apparently mattered to the organization.

Instead of protecting against leakers, Apple is now shrugging its shoulders at them. “Our weekly iPhone sales continue to be impacted by rumors and speculation regarding new products,” said Peter Oppenheimer, Apple CFO. Two years ago Apple had the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office as their private army. Now they’re all “Shit happens.”

I’m far less interested in an iPhone rebuilt from scrap parts than asking how these scrap parts leaked in the first place. To be honest, I preferred an Apple that was trying to change the CE manufacturing industry by forcing accountability, control, and secrecy. Manufacturers love leaking information in an effort to pump and dump their stock. Earlier, a post in Digitimes simply hinting at an Apple partnership would usually do the trick. Now, with a new, kinder Tim Cook at the helm, it’s clear that manufacturers are far less afraid of Cupertino.

I’m upset by this for one reason: a manufacturing environment without Apple will be far less regulated and far more damaging environmentally and in terms of human capital. Mike Daisey and his magical, iPad stroking crippled men aside, Apple has done more to change the face of Asian manufacturing than any hardware company. The constant refrain of “Cheaper, faster, less regulation” was completely upset by Apple’s power and the subsequent criticism that their role in the industry forced them to accept. Apple, by dint of being the largest and most lucrative customer for many of these factories, forced the factories to change. When Greenpeace and This American Life are against you (and I still think Apple knowingly ignored human rights issues until they didn’t), you try to change things as quickly as possible.

These leaks show that this fear (and perhaps respect) has diminished considerably. Hardware suppliers don’t care, repair shops don’t care, and soon Foxconn won’t care. An Apple without teeth isn’t much better than an Apple that seizes journalists’ laptops on a whim.

I do have a theory (and it’s far-fetched) as to why these leaks are happening: Apple needs to telegraph the changes they are planning to the dock and, as a result, are forced to release more test hardware than usual. This hardware is falling into the wrong hands. That we haven’t seen an actual working new iPhone in the wild is a testament to the respect Apple does have in the industry (as well as a testament to their tendency to literally chain iPhone prototypes to desks at partner design shops). If this is the case, it still doesn’t excuse Apple’s inability to keep a lid on things.

Apple is strong and scary – or at least it used to be. These leaks are fun on one level but on another level they show a degree of carelessness that Jobs would never allow. Love them or hate them, Apple changed manufacturing for the better. If they lose that fear, the dark days may still return.