According to sources at Apple Stores, employees are now able to unlock standard AT&T iPhone 4’s at checkout, in case inventory for unlocked phones run low. Yes, that’s right, Apple owns its own internal unlocking solution for the locked iPhones.
According to what seems like an instructional email sent to Apple Store employees, clerks are being instructed to unlock AT&T iPhones and sell them as unlocked in case inventory for unlocked iPhone 4’s runs low:
A few weeks ago, news broke that Apple would begin selling unlocked iPhone 4’s in the US for a higher price. Later that week, the company began selling unlocked iPhones in its Apple Stores and on its website for a stiff price: $649 and $749 for the 16 GB and 32 GB models respectively. That’s quite a jump from the standard price of $199 for the 16GB version, but of course the freedom can be a huge factor to some (including those who travel frequently and find themselves often having to swap SIM cards).
Before Apple introduced official unlocked iPhones in US, many customers would simply resort to tools, such as Ultrasn0w, to unlock their phones (find out how to unlock your iOS 4.3.3 device on old basebands using that tool here). Even now, many users will likely feel more inclined to just use the custom tool rather than pay three times the price of a regular iPhone just to get it unlocked.
T-Mobile pointed out earlier this week that roughly 1 million of its users were using iPhones, most of them earlier versions such as the iPhone 3G and 3GS, not the current iPhone 4. This suggests that unlocking has been a longtime practice and Apple’s official method will only account for a small amount of all unlocked iPhones.
Freedom comes with a consequence, as one might expect. While some might be temped to immediately swap their AT&T cards with T-Mobile ones, given that both networks use GSM, those won’t be able to use 3G, since T-Mobile and AT&T use different mobile frequencies. Instead, users are forced into EDGE (2G), which feels about as fast as a standard dial-up connection, at least in real world terms.
Of course, Apple Store employees won’t be able to just unlock standard AT&T iPhone 4’s and sell them for $199. This is simply a way to sell standard iPhones as unlocked ones once inventory runs low. Still, it’s interesting to wonder what would happen if the unlocking tool used by Apple employees somehow leaked onto the Internet.