Auctioning off Apple prototypes is tricky business. If you're the seller, there's always the chance that Apple will try to shut you down, and ask for the device back. The man who was selling an iPad prototype with two dock connectors suspected this when he posted his eBay auction.
"I wasn't expecting the auction to finish. I was expecting Apple to take it down," he told Wired.
But Apple didn't contact the seller, who spoke with us on the condition of anonymity. In fact, the seller told us he expressly conducted his auction over the Memorial Day weekend because he figured Apple employees would be enjoying the holiday, not patrolling eBay: "I knew that Apple wouldn't be as active over the weekend, and I had a better chance of Apple not taking it down," he said.
Apple has a storied history of reigning in people who deal in, or posses, its prototypes. An eBay auction for a MacBook Pro with a 3G antenna was stopped by Apple, and the seller later returned the hardware to Apple. And of course, the iPhone 4 prototype that Gizmodo purchased in April 2010 led to criminal charges (later dropped) against Gizmodo editor Jason Chen. Most recently, in the summer of 2011, an iPhone prototype was lost in a San Francisco bar by an Apple employee. The resulting investigation entailed Apple security searching a citizen's home under the escort of the SFPD.
But the story of the dual-dock prototype, like its seller, is still shrouded in mystery. We reached out to him via eBay's messaging platform, and he contacted us directly by phone from a blocked number. We still don't know his real name, but we were able to glean some details about his sale.
The seller says he purchased the iPad prototype from a co-worker. He says he doesn't know how the co-worker came to possess the prototype, and to protect himself and the co-worker, the seller wouldn't share information about where he works, and what he does for a living.
"I don't know if it was stolen from Apple, or if the person who was working with it kept it," the seller told us. "Judging by how Apple works, it's most likely stolen, but I'm not sure about that."
However, the seller did tell Wired that the prototype came from an Apple lab in California. "It has identifying marks that describe which prototype it is, and those are the numbers that I've obscured on the auction," he said. "With that you can track down who was using the iPad."
The seller says that when he bought the iPad prototype from his co-worker, it was bricked: "I kind of took a chance and purchased it broken and had to repair a few things," he told us. The seller was unable to fix the touch screen, which he noted in his sales language. Nonetheless, the ill condition of the prototype didn't stop the auction price from pushing past $10,000 and attracting the attention of the technology press.
"I really wasn't expecting that much," the seller said.
When questioned about the buyer of the iPad, the seller told us: "For the privacy of the buyer, I'd really rather not share much more than he is based in the United States, and I just shipped it to him."
The seller told us he's sold another Apple prototype before, but wouldn't provide details other than that the other auction didn't garner publicity. "I can't give much information about the Apple device without revealing who specifically I am."
As for the eBay account that sold the dual-dock iPad, it's registered to apps69, but the seller says it belongs to a friend. "They obviously know I'm using the account. This is not my account," he told us.
While the seller says he doesn't use his own account, the account apps69 has sold a variety of Apple hardware and other technology gear including various iPhones and MacBooks. None of the items that appear on the seller's feedback ratings suggest anything more unusual than run-of-the-mill technology hardware.
The seller says he hasn't been contacted by Apple, and doesn't think the company will be happy to talk to him. "I'm pretty sure any contact I have with them won't be very positive," he said.
Wired emailed Apple about the auction, and hasn't received comment.
So now that the seller is $10,200 richer, what does he plan to do with his money? "I plan to save it and buy a new iPhone 5 or new MacBook Pro when it comes out. It will definitely get back to Apple."