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Apple's site suggests unlocked iPhone 4S will be available

A question that's been on many people's minds today, including mine, is whether or not the iPhone 4S will be offered in an unlocked, contract-free option like the iPhone 4 has been for the past several months. I know I've been awaiting the answer to this question with great interest, especially with news today suggesting the iPhone 4S won't be available where I live until December.

Wording on Apple's iPhone page suggests that it will be offered unlocked. The below excerpt is directly from Apple's FAQ for the device (relevant portions in bold for emphasis):

If I lose my iPhone, can I buy a replacement iPhone?

Yes. You can purchase a replacement iPhone from the Apple Online Store, an Apple Retail Store, or your carrier's store. Your price will depend on whether you qualify for a carrier subsidy. You can also purchase an unlocked iPhone from the Apple Online Store or Apple Retail Store and obtain a micro-SIM card directly from your supported GSM carrier.

When I buy from the Apple Online Store, does my iPhone come ready to use?

Yes, if you have selected a mobile phone carrier. When your iPhone arrives, all you have to do is turn it on and follow the onscreen instructions to set it up. There's no need to call the carrier or visit a store to complete the activation. If you have selected an unlocked GSM phone, you will need to acquire a micro-SIM from the supported GSM carrier of your choice and activate it in order to use your iPhone.

Information in a footnote on both that page and the iPhone 4S tech specs page further suggests the iPhone 4S will be available unlocked:

For those who are not qualified customers, are not eligible for an early upgrade, are purchasing an unlocked iPhone (for supported GSM wireless service provider networks only), or wish to buy an iPhone as a gift, see your carrier, an Apple Retail Store Specialist, the Apple Online Store, or an Apple Authorized Reseller for pricing.

There's always the possibility that these snippets were mistakenly carried over from the iPhone 4's descriptors, but my fellow TUAW colleagues have long suspected that the iPhone 4S would be available unlocked just like the iPhone 4.

No official pricing info for unlocked iPhone 4S models is available yet, but the smart money is on "expensive as heck" -- the 8 GB iPhone 4, available for US$99 with a 2-year contract, costs $549 without a contract. Extrapolating from the iPhone 4's pricing suggests the following pricing scheme for unlocked models:

  • 16 GB iPhone 4S: $649 (the same as the unlocked 16 GB iPhone 4 from months back)
  • 32 GB iPhone 4S: $749 (again, same price as unlocked 32 GB iPhone 4 was)
  • 64 GB iPhone 4S: $849

We're not certain as of yet if unlocked iPhone 4S models will be available for pre-order on October 7th, but I'm betting they won't be; I think it's more likely that only carrier-locked models will be offered for pre-order, with unlocked models available on October 14 in-store and on Apple's site.

I'm unwilling to wait until December and pay the extortionate prices Apple charges in New Zealand, and I'm also not signing another two-year contract with my existing wireless provider just to get the inexcusably paltry "subsidies" they offer. Therefore, I know I'll be lining up (metaphorically speaking) for an unlocked US model -- how about you?

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