Software engineer Gray Powell apparently left the model, a prototype of the Apple iPhone 4G, on a bar stool at the Gourmet Haus Staudt in Redwood, California, a beer garden near Apple's HQ.
Such a gaffe would be enough to prompt hara-kiri in the average Apple convert; but it's especially bad when the model's still under wraps and not due out till June. Slips of this kind are unusual at Apple. Anyone who does leak information on new products can expect an imminent and very violent meeting between their backside and Steve Jobs' pendulous iBoot.
For this reason many now reckon the whole story is a clumsy viral marketing stunt. If so it's worked - the story is everywhere, and it's cost Apple nothing.
It's an illustration of the complicated times in which we live, in which it's hard to take anything you hear as genuine. Whether it's the bloke you're next to on the tube chatting loudly about the great new book he's reading, or your wife making you eggs in the morning and banging on about the qualities of Lurpak, anyone could be in the employ of those crafty marketers. They've even marched their way into Twitter with their paid-for Tweets, the heathens.
But such sneaky tricks don't really sit right with Apple. Its products sell out immediately anyway, such is the level of dedication among fans. Instead the company is all about keeping everything top secret until the moment of launch, whereupon Sir Steve of Jobs wanders out and unleashes the new kit in a heavily choreographed fanfare, before surfing off on a wave of style-nerd dribble.
Unless of course it's a distraction technique. The company may have become wary of a frothing backlash over the UK launch of the similarly-vaunted iPad, which has been pushed back a month till the end of May.
Assuming that the story is genuine, we're left with a lesson in the importance of keeping tabs on your kit. We've grown used to the fact that USB sticks are going to get misplaced; but going out on the piss with a top secret unreleased phone is seriously asking for trouble.
Indeed, Powell apparently updated his Facebook page from the device before he lost it, noting: ‘I underestimated how good German beer is'. Then he proved it by stumbling off and leaving his phone behind. Which has given us an idea for another new iPhone app: one that warns you your drinking's about to make you do something really stupid.