Apple is finally starting to loosen the reins on its coveted smartphone by announcing that it will start selling unlocked iPhones to the general public.
Before, in order to get your hands on an iPhone, you had to sign your right arm (and your first-born son) over to AT&T and now Verizon Wireless by way of a 2-year phone/data contract. The advantage to signing a contract is you can get the device at a seriously reduced price. If you’re a new subscriber, or your contract is up for renew, you can get an iPhone for as little as $199. But in the long run, your wireless provider wins, because they will lock you in to a contract that when broken down, is WAY more lucrative on a monthly basis, than a one-time sale of just the phone.
But is seems as if the consumer has finally broken down “King Apple” and they are now selling unlocked iPhones. Meaning, you can buy the phone at full retail price starting at $649…and walk away. The cool thing (and pretty much the major advantage) is that you can use your iPhone on ANY GSM-based network, simply by swapping out the SIM card. Don’t be fooled, you will still need to sign-up for some sort of phone/data service to actually use the phone, but now in the US, users now have the additional choice to use their iPhone on T-Mobile’s network. Pound for pound, T-Mobile’s rates appear to be cheaper than AT&T or Verizon. Another point is if you’re an international jet-setter and spend a good amount of time oversees, GSM-based networks rule, so you can pick up a local network’s SIM card, pop it in your phone and resume “closing deals” without worrying about crazy roaming fees.
To the average consumer though, wielding an unlocked phone can be tricky, even a little disappointing if you aren’t paying attention. For example, if you do decide to scoop up an iPhone to use on T-Mobile’s Network, anytime you try to use the 3G data portion, you would be connected to a slower version of 3G (EDGE), due to the slight differences in T-Mobile’s network. Yeah, I know, you’ve seen the T-Mobile commercials with the lady in the Pink dress talking mad junk to the other guy on AT&T’s network about how T-Mobile is all that…Don’t believe everything you see on TV. Side note: that difference may be a moot point if and when the AT&T/T-Mobile deal goes through.
Overall, even with the additional choices of international traveling and a third major US wireless carrier here in the States (oh, and maybe a higher re-sale value), the up-front costs of the phone, possible reduction in quality, and the hoops you may have to jump through to get an unlocked phone activated may not be worth it. Yeah, it would be cool to get an legally unlocked, non-jailbroken iPhone and seemingly “stick it” to your current wireless provider if you’re either unhappy with your service OR live in an area where you need another option. But in the end, whatever wireless provider you go with will win, so just grin and bear it.