SAN JOSE, Calif. A 25-year old engineer working for a company that assembles Apple iPhones reportedly took his life last week after losing a prototype of a future Apple handset. Sun Danyong of Hon Hai Precision Co. Ltd. in Shenzhen, China, jumped from his twelfth floor apartment building after reporting the incident and being questioned by company security officials, reports said.
The Daily Tech reported the story on Tuesday. Since then many other news outlets have followed suit including a report in today's Wall Street Journal.
Hon Hai has suspended the security official who questioned Sun, and China officials are investigating the incident according to reports. Hon Hai is a branch of Taiwan's Foxconn Technology Group. Both Foxconn and Apple officials expressed regret over the suicide.
The incident throws a spotlight on the tensions between the heavy cloak of secrecy Apple Inc. maintains around its unannounced products and the intense drive from competitors and the media to get early access to the specifications of those products.
"The real fear in losing a prototype is massive amount of counterfeiting and reverse engineering that goes on in China," said Allan Yogasingam, a technology analyst at Semiconductor Insights (Ottawa), a sister division of EE Times.
Yogasingam obtained handsets that attempted to mimic the Apple iPhone as much as two months before the original iPhone was released. He wrote an analysis and gave presentations on several of the designs within weeks of the iPhone launch.
"Some of these clones were designed simply based upon images of the iPhone these companies found on the Internet," Yogasingam said. "If they were to get their hands on a prototype of the iPhone, they could make an almost identical handset with cheaper parts that could severely damage Apple's sales," he added.
Apple is well known for keeping a tight lock on its partners regarding components used in its products, even after product teardowns have made those details a matter of public record. For example, the former chief executive of Infineon refused to comment on the use of his company's baseband chips in the original iPhone, even months after the handset had shipped and its contents had been publically reported by teardown services.
News about what chips Apple uses is highly coveted. Prior to some Apple iPhone launches, media companies have flown journalists to countries that would be the first to open retail outlets so they would have a few hours lead in tearing down handsets and posting details to their Web sites.
The Hon Hai engineer's suicide would not be the first in a situation involving an individual in China seen to fail his company. Executives involved in scandals that found lead paint used on toys made in China also took their lives.