Early Monday, 9to5Mac reported that Apple was going to start selling iPhones at list price (read: without subsidization from AT&T) in its stores and on its Websites. Some took this to mean that these contract-free iPhones would be sold unlocked, but it appears this is not the case.
The iPhone 3G 8GB model sells for a list price of $499, while the iPhone 3GS 16GB and 32GB models sell for $599 and $699, respectively. I inquired at my local Apple store and discovered that, yes, iPhones are being sold at list price to customers without requiring an AT&T contract. However, these iPhones are still locked to AT&T, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
Gizmodo acquired the internal memo Apple sent out Monday that details the new policy change: customers may now buy one iPhone at full price, without an AT&T contract, per day (you can purchase up to five contracted iPhones). Also, customers are limited to ten full-price iPhones per lifetime.
So, what does this mean for the average customer? Not a whole lot, unless you're of a mind to unlock your iPhone. Otherwise, you may not need to show proof of an AT&T contract to get an iPhone from an Apple store, but you'll still need an AT&T contract if you want it to be anything more than an iPod Touch.
Unlocking your iPhone is actually quite simple -- though no, it is not authorized by Apple; and yes, it can void your iPhone warranty. Also, it's quite possible that the iPhone 3GS is jailbreak- and unlock-proof (any word on whether hackers have managed to get around this? Leave it in the comments!).
If you'd still like to unlock your iPhone 3G or your iPhone 3GS, there are a number of methods out there -- but don't come running to me when your warranty has been voided and your phone is a worthless brick. Also, make sure you check that your carrier can handle the iPhone before you do anything rash.
Apple made the same sort of offer last March, providing contract-free-but-not-unlocked iPhone 3Gs for a list price. This sales technique looks like a pattern, but I'm not sure what, exactly, Apple expects to accomplish with it.