Such leaks are highly unusual. The tech press usually gets one or two pictures of unannounced Apple products, but it's rare — other than when a prototype goes missing in a bar — to see so many photos that give up so many details of a new gadget. In an appearance at the D10 conference in May, Cook told the crowd that Apple would "double down on secrecy on products."
On Twitter, I've seen some speculation that the leaked pictures are part of an elaborate conspiracy to trick the tech press — that Apple may have created and planted decoy iPhone parts in the media to throw us off the real, not-at-all-boring new iPhone. All of the images have come from anonymous sources who are said to be close to Apple's production facilities, so that's not out of the realm of possibility.
But I find the decoy argument pretty far-fetched. That's because the leaked pictures add up to a device that's in keeping with Apple's overall philosophy of constant refinement — the new iPhone will be a slight improvement on the old iPhone, just like every new iPod of the early-and-mid 2000s was a thinner, lighter, slightly better version of the last one. I don't think Apple is leaking photos of the new iPhone, but there are enough pictures out there to make me wonder if Apple has decided not to aggressively police leaks of the new iPhone. Why would it do that? Not because it wants to throw us off — instead, I think wants us to get us used to the not-all-that-new iPhone.
Apple's next iPhone has to be huge. It's the company's biggest product, and to keep Apple's revenues growing steadily, the firm will need to sell 50 million over the holidays. The leaks, then, might be a way to tamp down the superhigh expectations that bloggers would generate in the absence of any pictures. They're a way of getting us to understand that Apple isn't going to kill off a great design just because we all want something novel for novelty's sake.