The much vaunted, overly hyped and hugely anticipated Apple iPhone, a handset merging mobile phone and iPod into one unit, looked like being a step closer to reality when a French magazine featured a ‘leaked’ image of the thing on its front cover. Unsurprisingly, this was picked up by PDA France which featured the images and reported that a final version of the iPhone would be launched at the Paris Apple Expo, which ran this week.

Of course, it was not, and for good reason: the photos were fake.

In fact, French Farce is all too apt a description because the photos were actually a mock-up designed for the cover of the most popular UK Apple magazine, MacUser, and published way back in May. Things get even more hilarious, although not perhaps for ’20 Minutes’ the French magazine that used the same image on its cover, when you look closely at the telephone number showing on the front of the iPhone. It is actually the number of Dennis Publishing, the company that publishes MacUser and a number of magazines I happen to write for.

Laugh, I almost wet myself!

This kind of sloppy reporting takes me back nearly 20 years when I was writing about the Amiga computer and a colleague presented an excellent April Fool’s Day joke about a velocity sensitive keyboard that handled formatting depending upon how hard you typed a word, hard’ish for italic, harder for bold, really hard for bold underlined and so on. The next month a rival magazine reported on the keyboard as an ‘exclusive’ news story.

But back to the iPhone, and the reason that it happened to be so believable: timing. With the Apple Expo about to start, and reports circulating from some analyst chap (Shaw Wu from American Technology Research) urging investors to purchase Apple shares now before they announce the release of their mobile phone device, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Not that it is all smoke and mirrors, it has to be said. There is little doubt that Apple are working on such a device, and have been for a couple of years now. The problems have been that they have decided not to just bolt iTunes into a mobile, as that has been done before with the Motorola ROKR, which was totally hamstrung by the 100 tunes limit. Instead, it appears that Apple is re-designing the mobile phone from the ground up. And word on the tech journo grapevine is that they are almost there, despite having to bite the bullet and build it using some off the shelf parts, so close in fact that it is likely to be officially announced at the Macworld Expo San Francisco in January 2007, and hit the streets later the same year.

if they are they're rather late to the game with every phone manufacturer (and they have that market firmly in hand and divided) offering pretty much the same thing already: a mobile phone that is also a media player, game computer, PDA, video and still camera, etc. etc. etc. .

Indeed. I remain equally unconvinced that just because it is Apple and likely to be called an 'i' something that it will be a runaway success.