Apple iPhone 4
Apple's iPhone 4. Apple

There's a story you may have heard today. It's about Apple's iPhone 5, and how a prototype of the product supposedly got left in a bar. The story goes that an Apple employee left his prototype for the iPhone 5 in a tequila bar in San Francisco, similar to a situation that happened with the iPhone 4 last year.

History does typically repeat itself, and Apple's iPhone is no exception. In a story reported by CNET, the episode is explained that the phone went missing in July, sparking a scramble by Apple security to recover the device over the next few days.

They say the iPhone 5 prototype may have been sold on Craigslist for $200, and that Apple was later able to track down the iPhone 5 to a nearby house where it was retrieved.

No images of the iPhone 5 prototype were released, and we don't even know if the story is real. In advance of the Apple's highly anticipated iPhone 5 release, one thing we do know is that Apple's marketing strategy for the world's bestselling smartphone is perhaps brilliance at its best -- as the rumor mill prints currency the company will soon cash in on.

Apple delayed the launch of its forthcoming iPhone from a traditional summer release. And in the months since, the Internet has been blazing with rumors about when the iPhone 5 will hit shelves in the U.S., what the product will look like, and how it will perform.

The latest rumors involving the iPhone 5 are in conflict with whether it will be released in September or October, but it really doesn't matter: Recent polls suggest the product will be a smash success.

Apple has sold more than 110 million iPhones since the company first launched the smartphone product in 2007, but its market share-leading product is likely to explode to unfathomable popularity if rumor and anticipation Web traffic in recent months are any indication.

Every few days or so, Apple iPhone 5 search words surge to the top of the Web's most popular list as the latest rumors do all of Apple's work -- the best free advertising a company could buy.

Apple is nobody's fool, of course, so it's likely a wrong assumption to think that the product's delayed launch and other events like the iPhone 5 prototype supposedly showing up in a tequila bar is anything less than calculated brilliance.

Because the iPhone is the world's dominant smartphone product, Apple wants to get this next one right, throwing down a competitive gauntlet that will be hard for others like BlackBerry maker Research in Motion to compete against.

So as Apple works fast and furiously to get the modules and manufacturing lined up for iPhone 5 production, the company carefully plays along with and fuels the rumor mill, generating perhaps the single best promotion campaign for a single product the world has ever known.

Money could not buy this type of hype and sales-generating buzz -- likely not even for the $76 billion Apple has stockpiled in cash -- since grassroots activism is the most powerful.

And Apple hasn't paid a dime for it, beyond salaries to the public relations and marketing personnel who help dangle tidbits to tech-blogs and news organizations to keep the furor going.

It's not like they have to do much work either, since the rumor mill and hunger for information that's a blend of half-baked imagination and reliable information thrives well beyond anything Apple has done beyond delaying the product. For each day that passes without Apple's iPhone on the shelves, that's another day for the hunger to grow.

And grow it does, setting up an inevitable blockbuster launch.

Apple's only challenge will be delivering a product that lives up to the hype.