People in the U.S. both cheered and blinked in wonder on Tuesday, as factory unlocked iPhone 4s became available in the online Apple Store, at $649 and $749 (16GB or 32GB). This is the first time ever that unlocked iPhones have been sold in the U.S.
Previously, U.S. users who wanted to have an unlocked iPhone would have to jailbreak and unlock (two separate processes) their iPhones. Those processes, while deemed legal last year, void iPhone warranties.
Earlier reports were that unlocked iPhones would be available in the U.S. beginning on Wednesday. Essentially, this is (sort of) the T-Mobile iPhone that folks asked about when AT&T first announced plans to acquire rival GSM carrier T-Mobile. The (as expected) higher price reflects the fact that since these are unlocked, there's no carrier subsidy or two year contract.
Despite the fact that iPhone users can now purchase official, unlocked phones, there are still two problems. For one, because of the differences between AT&T and T-Mobile 3G frequencies, T-Mobile
users will only be able to use the iPhone 4 on much slower EDGE. Additionally, AT&T is still unable , at least for now, to unlock existing iPhones.
[Realistically, this is another blow to AT&T, which lost U.S. iPhone exclusivity earlier in 2011, when Verizon began selling iPhones. As such, unlocking existing iPhones could hardly be seen as a top priority for AT&T.]
Because of the 3G incompatibilities in the U.S., this move is more likely being done to appease international travelers. There's another possible reason for the move: because Apple's next-gen iPhone
has been delayed until September, according to most reports, this move will stir interest in a model that's already about a year old.
Buyers of unlocked iPhones should expect a few days of wait time; black versions have a 1-3 day delay before shipping; white models take 3-5 days to ship (at least, for now).
Users of unlocked iPhones will need a micro SIM, not a SIM, from their carrier of choice. Regular SIMs can be cut down to fit a micro SIM slot, using a kit (or even, just being careful and following online instructions).