The Vietnamese Site Behind the Apple Leaks

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The Vietnamese forum site Tinh Tế has pulled back Apple's veil of secrecy, but the site itself remains a mystery.

In the last week, the forum has hosted photos and videos of three unreleased Apple products: an iPhone, a MacBook and an iPod Touch. The authenticity of the products hasn't been officially confirmed, but bloggers seem convinced: the iPhone looked similar to one previously leaked to tech blog Gizmodo; features of the MacBook were similar to those officially unveiled this week; and the iPod Touch video is convincing and features a diagnostic utility similar to one we saw back in 2007.

But little is known about how a forum in Southeast Asia pulled such a journalistic feat three times over. Apple is notoriously secretive about its products and the Gizmodo leak was considered a significant -- albeit controversial -- achievement. So what do we know about Tinh Tế?

The iPhone and iPod Touch leaks were both posted by the same user, cuhiep, who the Associated Press apparently tracked down last week following the iPhone posting. He offered a curious explanation of how he got his hands on the iPhone prototype:

Mobile phone accessory salesman Tran Manh Hiep rushed to a cafe in southern Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday when word on the street spread that someone was there flashing the newest iPhone.

Hiep said he inspected the device, recorded it and posted the video on the Tinhte.com forum website, for which he is an administrator.

Hiep told the AP that he didn't know how the man obtained the phone, but he did say the man was also a mobile phone dealer. Aside from the AP story, little else has been reported on the site or Hiep, at least in English.

Details are scant, but Hiep's Tinh Tế user profile links to his Facebook profile and a Flickr page and Hiep appears to have an abandoned year-old Twitter account. Tinh Tế also has a Facebook profile and Hiep is one of eight people featured in the profile picture, which makes sense if the AP is right about him being an administrator of the forum. (He is also described as an administrator of the site in this Google-translated article.) Ho Chi Minh City is listed in the Facebook profiles belonging to both Hiep and the forum.

The video of the iPod Touch begins outside -- and continues within -- the Cafe Tinhte. And according to what appears to be the Cafe's site, it's located in Ho Chi Minh City just down the street from what appears to be a related property: Khacten, which seems to sell art and cases for electronics and is linked to in both Facebook profiles.

What motivated Hiep and Tinh Tế to post the leaks is anyone's guess. There are no ads on the forum pages, but Khachten.com is plugged in one video -- the iPod Touch one -- above the text "Leather Skin - Leather Cases."

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Niraj Chokshi is a former staff editor at TheAtlantic.com, where he wrote about technology. He is currently freelancing and can be reached through his personal website, NirajC.com. More

Niraj previously reported on the business of the nation's largest law firms for The Recorder, a San Francisco legal newspaper. He has also been published in The Hartford Courant, The Seattle Times and The Age, in Melbourne, Australia. He's also a longtime programmer and sometimes website designer.
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