San Francisco police said on Friday that they helped Apple security hunt for a lost item, without explicitly mentioning what the lost item was. However, an inadvertent clue left by the police says that the lost prototype was indeed the iPhone 5. The San Francisco Police Department's Friday press release about the hunt was called iphone5.doc, an apparent reference to a new version of the mobile phone that tech industry watchers expect to be released soon, a Reuters report said.

CNET reported this week that an Apple iPhone prototype went missing in a San Francisco bar in July. Though Apple tracked the lost phone to a San Francisco house, the 22-year-old resident of the house told the two Apple employees and the four policemen, who went to the house in search of the phone, that he knew nothing about it. Apple had traced the phone to the house using satellite positioning software on the device but did not find anything in the house.

The man, identified by SF Weekly as Sergio Calderon, could not be reached for comment, Reuters report said.

Interestingly, hours before San Francisco police issued their statement about the search, SFPD spokesman Lieutenant Troy Dangerfield denied that police had been contacted by Apple in connection with any lost phone, or by the person visited by Apple security and the police. No one has reported anything, Dangerfield told Reuters.

In general, Dangerfield said SFPD requires a supervisor's approval for personnel who are not law enforcement officers to accompany the  police during investigations.

It's not routinely done at all, Dangerfield said.

There have been reports which said that Apple may be attempting a cheap publicity stunt to increase the buzz around its flagship device, which according to recent polls would be a smash success.

Apple may be following a simple idea. Boost the anticipation for iPhone 5 till its launch as money could not buy this type of hype and sales-generating buzz.

Apple may also want to divert the attention of investors and general public to iPhone 5 from the departure of Steve Jobs. Speculation is rife that the departure of Jobs could hurt Apple in terms of innovation and the cool factor that has been the key to success of Apple devices.

In April 2010, Apple lost an iPhone 4 prototype that went missing in a bar just before its release. But Apple got it back after it had been sold by a finder to tech blog Gizmodo for $5000. 

Unlike last year, there are no photos or details on the device available since the initial report on CNET.