A blog called TechnoBuffalo got hold of a Verizon insider who described the cloak-and-dagger handling of the iPhone prior to its January 11 reveal.
It turns out, field testing for the phone started sometime in the summer of 2010, not long after the launch of the AT&T iPhone 4. While some Verizon employees only field tested the CDMA iPhones in Apple Stores — presumably out in the open, as they're virtually indistinguishable from their AT&T counterparts — others were granted the sacred privilege of taking the phones out into the wild.
But Apple wasn't about to have another iPhone lost in a bar, where it became blog fodder. The Verizon test phones were outfitted with a security protocol that required the bearer to text a special code every 12 hours, or the phone would apparently cease to work. The testers themselves had to sign a four-page non-disclosure agreement.
And all the while, there was no mention of the "iPhone" by name. Verizon referred to it as "Acme," though whether that's a reference to the phone's quality (it means "the best") or to Wile E. Coyote is not clear.
The piece on TechnoBuffalo cites only a source close to the action on this report, but it rings true.
Here's a piece we ran around that time, citing the iPhone as the final element in Verizon's dominance in 2011: