Why Apple Is Selling Unlocked iPhones in the U.S.

Unlocked iPhone

So I was wrong. Apple started selling unlocked iPhone 4s here in the U.S. this morning, as announced by Boy Genius Report and other websites.

That leaves the question: why?

The GSM iPhone 4 only works well on AT&T. Sure, you can run it on 2G EDGE with T-Mobile, but that’s a lousy user experience, and Apple is all about providing smooth user experiences. I just can’t accept that T-Mobile users want the iPhone so desperately that they’re willing to give up 3G for it, although I may be wrong about that, too.

Boy Genius Report’s Jon Geller is right when he says that Apple sells unlocked iPhones in 85 other countries. But those countries all have more than one GSM iPhone-compatible 3G carrier. Canada has three. Dave Zatz points out this morning that for Americans, the “unlocked” iPhone will cost $450 more over two years than the locked model, because AT&T doesn’t give any discounts for bringing your own phone. That’s “an extra $450 mostly for the privilege of feeling more liberated and fancy free,” he concludes.

Apple does nothing without a reason, so the company has to have a reason here, although it’s not saying what it is. Fortunately, some of the folks I know on Twitter provided some pretty good ones.

Keeping the iPhone 4 alive: Geller suggests “there’s nothing to lose by apple selling them unlocked 3 months before a new iphone.” Apple traditionally releases iPhones in June, and there’s no new iPhone this summer. That could create a trough in sales and mindshare. So Apple found a way to bump up an aging product. Even though the unlocked iPhone doesn’t provide any advantages to most Americans, this gets the hardware into the news… Read More [via pcmag]

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