How Apple kept its iPhone secrets

Bogus prototypes, bullying the press, stifling pillow talk – all to keep iPhone under wraps. Fortune’s Peter Lewis goes inside one of the year’s biggest tech launches.

One of the most astonishing things about the new Apple iPhone, introduced yesterday by Steve Jobs at the annual Macworld trade show, is how Apple (Charts) managed to keep it a secret for nearly two-and-a-half years of development while working with partners like Cingular, Yahoo (Charts) and Google (Charts).The iPhone, which won’t be available in the United States until June, represents a close development partnership with America’s largest wireless phone company (Cingular, now a part of AT&T (Charts), has 58 million subscribers), the world’s largest e-mail service (Yahoo has a quarter-billion subscribers worldwide), and the world’s dominant search company. Although speculation was rampant before the introduction that Apple would introduce a phone with iPod capabilities, actual details of the device were scarce. Even some senior Apple managers whispered during the keynote that they were seeing the iPhone for the first time, along with the 4,000 other Apple followers who crammed the Moscone meeting center here. Indeed, Apple’s emphasis on secrecy may have influenced Apple’s choice of Cingular to be the exclusive provider for iPhone service in the United States.

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