A wayward prototype of Apple Inc's next-generation iPhone has dominated the chatter in Silicon Valley over the past few days, and the company has moved to recover the device after it was apparently lost in a bar.

The unreleased iPhone unit later resurfaced on Gizmodo, a popular gadget website, which promptly splashed photos and details of it all over the Web and touched off a storm of publicity and speculation in the technology blogosphere. The device featured some noticeable improvements on the current generation model, including a front-facing camera for video chat and an improved version of its standard camera, among other goodies. Apple has released a new iPhone for each of the past three summers. Although the company has not formally announced its plans for this year, it is widely expected to launch the fourth-generation model this summer.

There was plenty of online discussion on Monday about whether the device was the genuine article. But a consensus emerged among the bloggers who track Apple's every tic that it was, in fact, a next-generation iPhone prototype. Then Apple, famously secretive and protective of its trade secrets, moved to get the device back. Gizmodo late Monday posted a letter from Apple general counsel Bruce Sewell to Gizmodo editorial director Brian Lam. The letter said: “It has come to our attention that Gizmodo is currently in possession of a device that belongs to Apple.” The company asked that the iPhone be returned, and Gizmodo said it would do so. Apple did not return a call seeking a comment. According to Gizmodo, the iPhone was left in a bar in Redwood City, California, on March 18 by a young software engineer. The device was found on a stool by an unidentified person, the blog said. Nick Denton, head of blog network Gawker Media, which owns Gizmodo, said in published reports that the site paid $5,000 for the iPhone prototype.

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