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9/1/2011
07:51 PM
Art Wittmann
Art Wittmann
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iPhone 5 Lost In Men's Room: My Dream Teardown

I'm not sure if it's the iPhone 5, 6, or 7, but I love it.

With the Cubs more than 20 games under .500 and Tim Lincecum on the mound for the Giants at home, I didn't expect a loss, let alone a shutout. After holding it for four innings, Lincecum's giving up a three-run homer in the seventh was my cue to head to the men's room for some relief. Just as I was finishing up, a glint caught my eye. "Only in San Francisco would someone put a coaster under his Anchor Bock in the men's room at AT&T Park," I thought.

My slightly buzzed brain took a second to process that there was something odd about that beer and its "coaster." I looked closer and noticed a faint glow. But it was the bubbles that really got my attention. They were slowly being sucked to the bottom of the cup and arranging themselves in a vaguely spherical shape. I lifted the plastic mug of Anchor Brewing's best, and there it was: not a coaster, but a phone slicker than I'd ever seen. The Apple logo glowed warmly on the screen.

Could it be?

Thin as a Nano, the dimensions were close to that of the iPhone -- but this was definitely no standard iPhone. The screen extended to the very edges of the device, and the polymer case was a buffed black material, not shiny. There were no cameras, no headphone jacks, no charging dock -- nothing but the screen on one side, the jet-black shell on the other. I picked it up, rubbed it against my shirt to remove the beer dew, and suddenly, an image of a thumbprint appeared on the screen. I just knew I was supposed to put my thumb where the device indicated. A blue-green light began to scan. I'd seen this app before and knew it was fake; the iPhone can't really read a thumbprint.

Or can it?

My smirk was quickly replaced by surprise as my full name, picture, address, current cell number, marital status, IQ, bank balance, and credit card information came up on the screen. A voice with a vaguely British accent asked if I wanted to deactivate and replace my BlackBerry. Still in a state of disbelief, I tapped the "replace" button. Some data that I took to be debugging information flew across the screen. Then, an image of the phone itself appeared with two arrows pointing to the side of the device. It apparently wanted me to change the way I was holding it. I grasped the phone as depicted and felt a slight pin prick in my thumb.

As I watched, a small pool of blood formed. "What the hell?" I thought. "What's Apple up to now?" My brain was beginning to dispel the beer haze. I had the scoop of the year sitting in my hand! I just needed someone to help figure out how the thing worked and what all it could do. I immediately thought of calling my friend Karen, a professor of computer science and electrical engineering at Berkeley. The phone vibrated in my hand slightly. "Calling Karen," said the soothing voice. A second later, Karen answered.

"What's up, rock star?" she said. "My phone says you're calling me from the men's room? Ick. I'm here at the game too. They suck tonight."

"Yeah, they do. So, I need your help. I think I found an iPhone prototype!"

"You found an iPhone 5 prototype?"

"It might actually be the iPhone 6. Just come. I'm going back to my seat at section 113."

As Karen arrived and I started telling her about the blood thing, I heard Beyonce's "Single Ladies" at deafening volume. "Why are they playing that?" I shouted at Karen.

She looked at me like I was crazy. "Playing what?"

"Beyonce! Can't you hear 'put a ring on it'? You have to be able to hear it, I can't even hear myself think."

She frowned slightly and yelled, "Think about answering the phone."

I did, Beyonce stopped, and a frantic voice asked who I was. "You called me, you go first," I replied. I've never been nice on the phone.

"I'm the guy who owns the phone you're using, moron!" the caller said. "I work for Apple, and you've got my damn phone. I see you've already identified yourself to it. You didn't let it mate with you, did you? Did you grab it on the sides when it asked? Please, please tell me you didn't!" I told him I had.

"Shit! Shit! Shit!" he yelled. "Tell me where you are. Or better yet, just think about how you want me to find you. Just think, 'It would be great if this Apple guy I'm talking to could find me.'"

I wanted the story, so I actually did want him to find me. "OK, section 113. I'll be right there," he said. Then in the background I heard, "Yeah, found him. Big dork with a Buster Posey jersey standing with some hot chick. Section 113."

His voice cleared from my head. I looked over at Karen and told her that someone from Apple was coming for the phone. Then I wondered if I was just drunk. The phone buzzed slightly. I looked at the screen. It flashed "BAC: 0.07%."

Suddenly, two guys who looked like they should be guarding the president were on us. "We're from Apple. Stay where you are," the big one yelled. We did as we were told. Seconds later, a guy in his late 30s showed up. Blond, handsome, and wearing a turtleneck, he seemed like the type who'd work in Apple R&D. He introduced himself as Bill, said he was the guy I'd talked to, and asked who the hell I was. "Shit, you're reporter?" he said. "Just what I need. I suppose you'll want a story out of this." I told him I thought I already had a pretty good story. He shook his head and laughed. "You have no idea. Come with me."

I asked if he wanted the phone back. "NO! No … no. You better hold on to it for now."

He led us to an elevator and waved a phone across the panel. The doors opened, and we all stepped on. He waved the phone again, the doors closed, and the elevator started down, fast. After about two minutes it stopped. I figured we were a mile beneath AT&T Park.

"Clever location for a lab," I said.

"No one thinks to look for us here," he replied with a smile. "Now let's see if we can get you separated from that phone." He led us through a series of hallways; the walls, floors, and ceilings where all white, illuminated by a light source I couldn't identify. Still, though, the place felt vaguely familiar. We finally entered a room that Bill told us was his lab.

I put the phone on the counter and slid it toward Bill. "Don't do that!" he yelled.

I hardly noticed his reaction as a wave of sadness overcame me. I felt like all my friends and family had suddenly died and left me alone. I shivered as though I were freezing and could barely hold back tears. The feeling of emptiness seemed to last forever, but within seconds, Bill had grabbed the phone and put at back in my hands. "You, ummm, you shouldn't let go of it yet," he said.

I picked up the phone and instantly felt calm. "What the hell was that?" I asked.

"You mated with the phone. It's a bug we haven't worked out yet. You can control it with your mind, but it also works itself into your memories and other higher-level functions." He paused for second; I could tell he wasn't sure he wanted to say the next part. "You're bonded to it now. If we don't get it separated from you pretty soon, we never will."

"I'm not going to feel lonely like that rest of my life, am I?"

Bill didn't say anything at first. He shook his head, shrugged, and mostly looked at me helplessly. "You'll be OK. Eventually."

Karen watched Bill as he started typing frantically on a MacBook Air. She'd been silent this whole time, studying Bill, and chose this time to interject. "Do you really think it's a good idea to use nanotechnology that way?" she asked. "Neural implants are pretty sketchy science. You have no idea if you can extract them, or what will happen if you do."

Bill glared. "Oh really, professor?" he sneered. "You've been able to successfully make commercialized neural implants? So you can tell me what I do and don't know about what's going to happen here? Let's see your prototype. … Oh, haven't got one? Then please just shut the hell up."

Karen's mouth hung open as she regained her composure. "I'm sorry. You're right. So let me ask you a few questions. I've never seen a neural implant setup this compact -- how are you getting the power for all this?"

Without looking up from the MacBook, Bill snapped: "Microfusion battery."

"There's no such thing," I scoffed. The phone buzzed. I looked down and saw a diagram of the fusion battery on the screen. It rotated in 3-D and, as it did, I started to understand. "Well, I guess it could work."

Karen stared even more intently at Bill. "So how do you dissipate the heat from that?"

Bill turned to me. "Tell her what you felt when you put the phone down," he said.

I started listing the emotions: sadness, emptiness, loneliness. And cold. I had been impossibly cold.

"The phone redirects your blood flow; it uses its human mate as a heat sink," he said. "That's why you felt cold. The phone was keeping you warm." He explained that when the phone wasn't in contact with its mate, it used a small conventional battery, but when it was in contact, it used the human to cool itself. "And before you ask, yes, it can read your thoughts, and yes, it will answer your questions," he said. "Rather than storing data in its own memory, it deposits data in your brain. Lots more capacity there. It reorganizes your mind so you never forget things. It makes your whole thought process clearer and more organized. Go ahead, try it out. Tell me how many people you saw from when you first picked up the phone until we entered the elevator."

I thought about it. I could see them all in my mind and could count each one. The game had ended and people were heading home. I'd seen 8,456 souls and could picture each face as clear as day.

"See?" Bill said. "The best of all worlds -- human senses, machine accuracy. Your eyes are the camera, your ears are the microphone, we create perfect sound right inside your head."

Karen's intense gaze still hadn't broken. "One thing you haven't explained," she said. "You couldn't find us unless we wanted you to. That doesn't sound like Apple to me."

"This is a prototype," he said. "We haven't built in any back doors yet, but we will. As you say, we'll need some way into the system."

Karen's voice got sharper. "Aren't you a little worried about hacking with something like this?"

Bill snickered. "No one hacks Apple systems," he said. "There. You should be able to let go of the phone now."

But I didn't want to. No, I don't think I'll ever let it go. Is that wrong?

Lorna Garey and my iPhone contributed to this story.

Art Wittmann is director of InformationWeek Analytics, a portfolio of decision-support tools and analyst reports. You can write to him at awittmann@techweb.com.

To find out more about Art Wittmann, please visit his page.

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