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Apple follows AT&T with no-contract iPhones

Freedom for the wealthy

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Apple and AT&T have each launched their own effort to shovel existing iPhone 3Gs out the door in preparation for the increasingly likely launch of a new iPhone - or iPhone line - early this summer.

For its part, Apple is now offering iPhones for sale in its brick-and-mortar Apple Stores without requiring the former two-year commitment to AT&T, just as AT&T announced last week that it would do, and began doing on Thursday.

But these freedom 'Phones aren't truly free: They're still locked into AT&T's service. However, any self-respecting Reg reader should be able to unlock theirs in a jiffy, insert an appropriate SIM card, and become, for example, a T-Mobile customer rather than an AT&Ter.

Neither are the phones anywhere near "free" in the pecuniary sense. At $599 for the 8GB model and $699 for 16GB, no one will consider a freedom 'Phone to be a budget buy.

On the plus side, Apple is putting no limit on how many uncommitted iPhones you can purchase. When we spoke to a sales rep at our local Apple Store, we were told that it would be perfectly fine to "bring a truck" and haul away a score or more.

AT&T is also doing its part to clear out iPhone inventory. AppleInsider reported on Friday that the telecom giant has let it be known to their in-store reps that they can choose to upgrade an existing AT&T customer to an iPhone even if that customer's current contract is still in force.

The catch here is that you'll need to be at or around 14 months into your existing AT&T contract to qualify for the upgrade - although the exact allowable tenure has been left to the discretion of individual AT&T sales folks.

But before you try to talk your AT&T counterman into upgrading your year-old Nokia 2600 to an iPhone 3G, know that you'll still have to sign up for a new two-year contract, and you'll still have to pay $199 for a 8GB and $299 for a 16GB model.

You might as well chill until you see what Apple announces at its upcoming Worldwide Developers Conference. ®

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