The iPhone is now available in the US unlocked. Judging by the lack of reaction to the news, one would assume that this is not a significant event. I would argue however that it’s a very significant event.
What is unappreciated is that the iPhone is a very restricted product. Unlike any of Apple’s other products (iPod, Mac and iPad), the iPhone is designed to be hard to get. Apple did not make it easy in the one dimension of ease that matters most: its purchase.
Consider that many people in the world cannot buy an iPhone because it’s not available locally. In case it is, in most cases you need to sign a contract and commit to a long-term relationship with a company other than Apple. In those cases where you don’t sign a contract, you cannot use it with a service provider other than the one (arbitrarily) chosen for you.
A few have been able to buy iPhones unlocked if they lived in a few countries (UK, France, Australia, Belgium, Hong Kong) but those phones could only be purchased online if sent to a local address or in an Apple retail store–of which there are not many.
Consider that in Europe alone, the following countries do not have iPhone distribution: