Lightning Review: What Happened to Gizmodo’s iPhone 3GS Hands-On? (Updated)

File this one under “weird:” shortly after Monday’s WWDC keynote ended—concluding of course with the announcement of the iPhone 3GS—we spotted a group of broadcast journalists huddled around the new device. As we approached from the side, as to not ruin the interview, we were told that there would be no photography, video opportunities, or hands on time for anyone other than broadcast journalists. Okay; Apple’s on-stage demonstrations don’t give these journalists the extended product close-ups they need for television footage. Fair enough.

Thus, we were surprised to find several hours later that Apple had given Gizmodo extended hands on access to the iPhone 3GS, which was written about in an article titled “iPhone 3GS Hands On,” and complete with at least one picture of a new black 32GB unit that was resting face down on its box. Network problems seemed to be making the page load inconsistently, so we decided to wait until later to see what Brian Lam had to say about it.

Only that never happened.

It is unclear exactly who made the order, or when it was made, but shortly after the story initially showed up online—including on sites such as Techmeme and Digg—it vanished from the pages of Gizmodo. Searching Gizmodo’s site for the article brings up nothing, and the page isn’t even available in Google Cache format. Only those links from Digg and Techmeme persist as evidence that the link was there, suggesting that incredibly, without any explanation, Gizmodo pulled its own seemingly exclusive hands-on for a product that is no doubt going to be one of the biggest gadgets of the year. Why would a gadget site ever do that?

It doesn’t seem to be for lack of information. Our cache of the story shows that Gizmodo was told how to calibrate the new digital compass (“twisting a figure 8 in the air with the phone”), given an opportunity to record video (“from our initial testing, [it] does so very well.

Everything about the experience is fast.”), try voice control (“we tested the ‘dial’ command… as well as the call command… Both worked perfectly—as you can see on the video.”), and even was given an opportunity to compare Safari speeds between the iPhone 3G, Palm Pre, and iPhone 3G S (“Safari on the 3GS is also noticeably faster than the 3G, but also faster than the Pre”).

So what’s the deal here? Is the fix in—another example of Apple buttering up its buddies with early hardware access in exchange for a promise to hold their comments until just before launch day? Or is there another explanation? Whatever the case, it seems like Apple’s representative lied to us about who was getting access—notably, something that happened with last year’s iPhone 3G—or Gizmodo had a friend on the inside who offered an exclusive, then retracted it. Or maybe both. In any case, it appears that Apple wasn’t quite ready for Gizmodo to tell its story, as it all but completely disappeared with CIA-like quickness. We’ve requested comment from Gizmodo and will let you know what, if anything, we hear back.

Updated: Following our Friday story on this, Gizmodo offered and we accepted an opportunity to hear the story behind the retraction of its hands-on, but days later, it still has not been forthcoming.