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Purported first-generation iPhone prototypes hit eBay in suspect auctions

A pair of concurrently active eBay auctions claim to be selling extremely rare first-generation iPhone prototypes Apple used for testing before introducing the game-changing smartphone in 2007. Bidder beware, however, as the listings are somewhat suspect, bearing identical descriptions, and in some cases identical pictures, despite being posted four days apart by two sellers in different countries.

iPhone 2G

A first auction touting the purported iPhone design validation test model as "The Rarest Of Them All" started the bidding process at one cent on Aug. 27.

From a seller based in Portland, Ore., the purported prototype bears what appears to be markings consistent with known DVT units. Notably, the hardware's version and notations relating to operating radio signal bands are etched into the phone's rear casing.

In this case, the "Ver. 1.1.1" iPhone includes Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GSM 850, 900, 1800 and 1900 components, according to photos supplied with the eBay auction.

Additional images show the handset running evaluation software designed to test onboard hardware functionality, including buttons, proximity sensor, microphone, Wi-Fi, cellular module, battery and more. A separate photo reveals a software build version, device name and serial number.

iPhone 2G

Details provided claim the DVT was hand made in Cupertino, Calif., in 2006, runs OS X and "Earthbound," and sports a different set of internals that differs from those shipped with consumer iterations of the device.

  • Rare Apple engineer sticker which says Ver 1.1.1
  • Running multiple testing software, including OS X and Earthbound (not the normal OS 1)
  • Used by Apple for testing to make the original iPhone
  • Circa 2006. Before the original iPhone release date (mid 2007)
  • Different weight. Much heavier at 144.5 grams (normal iphone 2g is 135 gram)
  • No FCC etchings at the back
  • Bell icon for the mute button
  • Complete different internals, including different battery, different wifi etc
  • Excellent investment
  • Early prototype
  • Hand made in Cupertino, California. (not mass produced in China like normal iPhones)
  • Secretly code named Project Purple (at this stage of development, the "iPhone" name was unknown)
  • EXTREMLY RARE. Only a few are known to exist
  • Highly sought after

Consumer versions of the original first-generation iPhone, or iPhone 2G as it is colloquially known, sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars depending on their condition. A "sealed, in the box" version went for $2,850 earlier this month.

Prototype units are exceedingly rare and command vastly higher prices. At the time of this writing, the Portland iPhone auction was at $10,200, not enough to meet a preset reserve price. The seller claims the phone was originally listed in 2015 and sold above $61,000, but offers no further details on provenance.

iPhone 2G

Mute switch with bell icon from Portland-based eBay listing.

Raising a red flag is a second listing from seller based in Edinburgh, UK, who is asking $4,999 in a "buy it now" sale. The auction was posted on Aug. 23.

Like the Portland listing, the Edinburgh iPhone is claimed to be a DVT unit, though it lacks the telltale hardware version and radio signal measurements etched into its casing. Instead, that same information is handwritten on what appears to be a small square sticker. The mute switch also lacks the bell icon seen on past prototypes.

iPhone 2G

Handwritten radio signal verification information from UK auction.

Comparatively, the UK auction is highly suspect, though details from the Portland listing are also questionable. For example, the auctions share identical descriptions, with the Portland document seemingly pulling from and modifying the UK version that was posted days earlier. The Portland seller also borrows at least one image — a system management screen — from the UK listing.

The crossover does not necessarily mean either auction is illegitimate; eBay presents sellers with suggested item specifications and descriptions gleaned from past auctions of similar products. That the UK unit lacks hardware-specific details like radio band etchings known to be present on past prototypes is concerning. Its relatively low asking price is also dubious.

Both auctions read, "This is a genuine item. Please be aware of the many fakes on eBay. Those just normal iPhones with Apple Skankware (testing software) dumped on them."

Further, prototype devices are in most cases Apple property, meaning unauthorized sale of such hardware is prohibited. Similar auctions have been pulled in the past, presumably at Apple's behest.

In any case, it serves buyers well to be wary of potential scams when plunking down tens of thousands of dollars on obsolete equipment, especially popular pieces of Apple history.