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Photo of Apple's next-generation iPhone in the wild - sources

A photograph containing one of Apple's fourth-generation iPhones has been lingering undetected on the web for nearly a week now thanks to having been overshadowed — quite literally — by the company's new iPad, AppleInsider has learned.

People with an impeccable track record in matters such as these say the iPhone in below photo, published by gadget blog Engadget in the hours leading up to Apple's iPad announcement last Wednesday, is a prototype of one of the handsets due to hit the market in roughly five months.

We spoke with Engadget to determine whether its unedited source imagery was of any superior quality, which it reportedly is not. Therefore, all we have to go off of is the fairly distorted shot you see here, which is bound to give way to some interesting analysis.

Cosmetically, the iPhone in the photo appears without its iconic aluminum bezel. Instead, the device is surrounded by a black plastic of aluminum material. Either that, or the handset is wrapped 80 percent of the way in a rubberized protective holder like the iPad prototype it rests on top of, though the quality of the image leaves this assertion to considerable debate.

The only other distinguishable difference between the existing iPhone and the one in the photo is what appears to be a whitish blotch immediately to the left of the earpiece grill. This could represent a circular transparency in the blackened portion of the face of the device that gives way to a camera lens, though it could also be nothing more than a reflection from some other source.

4th-gen iPhone

Due to hit the market this summer, Apple's fourth-generation iPhone has purportedly been described by Apple chief executive as an Steve Jobs disparages">"A+" upgrade to the company's existing line of handsets. If anything, the photos above serve as evidence that those advances will largely take place under the hood and through software, rather than in any radical departure from the handset's trademark form factor.

Like the iPad, people familiar with the matter claim the fourth-generation iPhone will run a version of Apple's homebred silicon, which melds ARM's latest multi-core Cortex reference designs with Imagination's upcoming GPU components into a fine-tuned, customized SoC (system-on-a-chip) package.

These enhancements, along with improvements to the iPhone software, are expected to translate into quantifiable improvements in battery life and the overall speed of the iPhone interface and the software that runs on top of it.

Last week, in a conversation with Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal, Jobs spoke of the battery-sipping custom chips Apple has built with the acquisition of P.A. Semi. He noted that the newly announced iPad will offer "140-something hours," or nearly six days, of continuous music playback with the screen off.

"It's all about the display," Jobs said of battery life. "Our chips don't use hardly any power."