May 29, 2012 at 8:16 PM ET
An early prototype of the iPad with a surprising design quirk has sold for just over $10,000 on eBay. The device features two dock connection ports, something that was rumored for the iPad 2. Unfortunately, the novelty of the two ports will be somewhat dampened by the fact that this iPad only runs a testing platform called Switchboard instead of iOS.
As the seller describes it:
This is one of a VERY small amount of Apple prototype devices and you rarely see these on ebay. This iPad has 16GBs of capacity, and is incredibly unique ... Apple prototyped these iPads to have this connector late in the process and at the last minute decided to remove them. There are patent drawings and leaked casings that show the indents for both dock connector holes, but this unit has both dock connectors, and both are full functional for charging this iPad and connecting it to your computer.
There were certainly rumors to the effect that a new iPad would have two ports, and as the seller notes there were actually leaked cases and drawings that showed this design. This particular iPad, however, is the first actual device to show up with the ports intact.
Whether Apple indeed intended to include both ports up until "the last minute" is anyone's guess, though it seems unlikely that Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive, both decisive and minimalistic in their design tendencies, would allow such an ambiguity into a shipping product.
It is, however, possible and even likely that the decision of which side the dock would be on was left until the last minute, as the device is equally usable in both landscape and portrait modes. They settled on portrait as the primary orientation, clearly, mirroring the iPhone and differentiating the iPad from widescreen monitors and TVs.
Interestingly, as a commenter points out at MacRumours, which found the listing, the circuitry necessary for the second dock connector is still present in normal iPads, though there is no hole in the case through which it can be accessed.
The real question, of course, is how did this device get out of Apple's labs in the first place? The seller tells Wired: "Judging by how Apple works, it’s most likely stolen, but I’m not sure about that... I can’t give much information about the Apple device without revealing who specifically I am." That may put this auction in questionable legal territory.
Regardless, the package is already in the open, in transit to the US-based buyer. Apple may try to track it down, but this cat is already out of the bag.
Devin Coldewey is acontributing writer for msnbc.com. His personal website iscoldewey.cc.