According to this internal Apple document, iPhones can now be sold at full price to folks without AT&T service: $499 for the 8GB 3G, $599 for the 16 GB 3GS, and $699 for the 32 GB 3GS. That’s all well and good, but the iPhones remain SIM-locked to AT&T, a hurdle which has become significantly harder to overcome since OS 3.1.3. For those who are looking to buy in bulk, there are additional restrictions, like only being able to buy one iPhone without service per day, and only being able to buy 10 in your lifetime, while on-contract options are still maxed out at five per day. Enterprise customers have a few more options available to them if they’re looking for more than five at a time.
At first blush this seems to be a slight separation of Apple from AT&T, but really, it’s more in line with the industry standard – carriers themselves often have smartphones available for sale off-contract at full price, but the tightness of AT&T’s exclusivity with the iPhone demanded special circumstances. The only alternative service provider someone would have with an on-contract iPhone would be T-Mobile, which they would need a pretty damn good reason to go with (like wanting to avoid an ETF, but still use an iPhone). The only other possibility is if a buyer was intent on bringing the phone to another country with the same 3G bands, which is a fairly small market in the grand scheme of things.
Still, options are good, and there will be at least a few folks who will be happy to hear the news.