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This weekend's iOS 11 GM leak revealed — and confirmed — a multitude of new features and hardware set to debut this fall, likely spoiling a number of surprises Apple had in store for its special event next week. Taking a step back from the deluge of new information, at least one insider believes the early disclosure was perpetrated by a disgruntled employee.
Commenting on Friday's dissemination of final iOS 11 code, which tipped everything from "iPhone X" facial recognition features to a new LTE Apple Watch, prominent Apple blogger John Gruber said he is "nearly certain" the leak was intentional.
"I'm nearly certain this wasn't a mistake, but rather a deliberate malicious act by a rogue Apple employee," Gruber said in a post to his blog Daring Fireball. "Whoever did this is the least popular person in Cupertino. More surprises were spoiled by this leak than any leak in Apple history."
Gruber does not cite sources, though the blogger is known to have his finger on the pulse of Apple, with contacts ranging from official spokespeople to "little birdies."
Apple seems to have made builds of the iOS 11 firmware available to download for anyone with knowledge of their special URLs. The site addresses were obscured to the point of being "unguessable," according to Gruber, suggesting the tipster who informed certain blogs and prominent Twitter personalities of their existence was an Apple employee.
Apple has always gone to extremes in efforts to keep future products under wraps, and such security measures are only heightened before a major launch. In the case of software like iOS, the company announces tentpole features at WWDC in June before seeding out beta versions to developers and brave public testers for evaluation. These beta versions are further refined until public release, which usually debuts alongside new iPhone hardware in September.
Revealing mainstay software functionality months ahead of launch is a necessary step in developing a usable, stable end product. That said, Apple traditionally keeps a few — often titillating — tentpole features out of developer and public betas until an official unveiling, a tactic designed to delight users and maintain an advantage over copycat competitors. Testing of these surprise features is limited to select in-house personnel.
Last year's Portrait Mode is a good example of an iOS keynote surprise. Restricted to iPhone 7 Plus, Portrait Mode uses the handset's wide angle and "telephoto" lenses, complex computer vision algorithms and depth mapping technology to create a series of image layers, which are selectively focused and defocused to simulate a bokeh effect. Including code points hinting at the feature in beta software would have betrayed the smartphone's unique dual camera array.
Information gleaned from the iOS 11 GM leak has so far yielded confirmation of an LTE Apple Watch and new AirPods revision, "Face ID" facial recognition details and setup process, a new "animoji" feature for Messages, the apparent marketing names of Apple's forthcoming iPhone lineup — iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X — and more.
Apple is expected to announce these, and potentially other, products at a special media event on Tuesday, Sept. 12, at Apple Park. AppleInsider will be on the scene at Steve Jobs Theater with live coverage starting at 10 a.m. Pacific.
Update: The BBC has independently confirmed URLs to download the code from Apple's servers were leaked. Whether the leaker or leakers are Apple employees is still unclear.