iPhone 4G prototype found on a bar floor

The rumor mill is gearing up for the launch of Apple’s fourth-generation iPhone, and the latest rumor has an aroma of fermented hops and barley.

Many observers expect Apple to release a new model in late spring or early summer. CEO Steve Jobs said recently that an updated mobile OS would be ready this summer–a perfect opportunity to release new iPhone hardware. Fueling speculation that a June launch is imminent is a report from Boy Genius Report that it has “confirmed with multiple AT&T sources that the carrier has now put a block on employees taking vacations in June.”

Engadget is fanning the flames with photographs it says contain images of the forthcoming phone. Here’s Engadget’s explanation on how the images surfaced:
Apparently the phone was found on the floor of a San Jose bar inside of an iPhone 3G case. Right now we don’t have a ton of info on the device in question, but we can tell you that it apparently has a front facing camera (!), 80GB of storage (weird, right?), and isn’t booting at this point (though it was previously, and running an OS that was decidedly new). It’s not clear if this is definitely a production model, or just a prototype that found its way into the world, but it’s certainly a compelling design, no matter how you look at it.

Perhaps bolstering Engadget’s report is a Twitpic posted in February that bears a striking resemblance to Engadget’s images. However, other blogs reported that the images were actually of a Japanese iPhone counterfeit. As “proof” of the validity its report, Engadget reposted a grainy, heavily redacted photo it posted with a January iPad prototype story it now says shows the forthcoming iPhone sitting next to the then-yet-to-be released iPad.

Additionally, a MacRumors reader posted these images–purportedly from a Chinese Web site–that appear similar to those posted earlier by Engadget, although some readers suggest these are really images of the what was described as a Japanese counterfeit.

Of course, one has to wonder whether a company that guards the secrecy of its unreleased products as fiercely as Apple would actually allow an employee to take a prototype out to mingle with pretzels and spilled beer.

Here are the actual pictures

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