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Could this be the new iPhone?

By David Goldman, staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- It sounds too good to be true, and it just might be. An Apple employee reportedly left a prototype of the new iPhone at a bar, and it ended up in the hands of a gadget blog.

How convenient.

The fourth-generation iPhone prototype ... maybe.

Photos of the fourth-generation iPhone prototype first appeared on the tech blog Engadget over the weekend. The site said whoever sent the photos found the phone on the floor of a bar in San Jose, Calif. On Monday, rival tech blog Gizmodo said it had obtained the device -- but wouldn't say how.

Alright, we're skeptical too, but there are a few reasons to take this seriously.

Daring Fireball blogger John Gruber, who is known to have connections inside Apple's Cupertino headquarters, said on his blog that Apple happens to have reported a prototype stolen. He also said Apple has a patent out for a phone with a ceramic backing, and indeed some of the images now online appear to have just such a backing.

Gizmodo's photos of the device's internal components show that they're labeled as Apple products. The blog also said that a computer recognized the device as an iPhone, and the phone apparently runs the yet-to-be-released iPhone OS 4.0.

But Apple has not even confirmed that a new version of the iPhone even exists, though analysts widely expect that a the fourth generation of the device will be released in the summer. Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) did not return requests for comment.

But even if this new iPhone is the real deal, it's important to keep in mind that the device that bloggers are now drooling over is just a prototype. So it's unclear how many of its features will be actually be available on the new phone.

A quick glance at the photos shows a flatter, less curvy iPhone. The back of the phone is completely flat, unlike the current model, which is tapered to fit the curve of your palm. The new phone's back is also ceramic, rather than plastic.

The new iPhone has an aluminum border with two volume buttons instead of just one. Unlike the current model, it has a front-facing camera. It also has a camera on the back, which is larger than the one on the back of the current 3GS model.

Gizmodo said the new iPhone is 3 grams heavier than the iPhone 3GS, with a battery that is 16% larger. The screen on the new iPhone is said to be slightly smaller than the current version's, but the resolution is improved. To top of page

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