Q: Is it known whether customers can walk into an Apple Store and buy a full-priced and unlocked phone or will all September 21st sales be through carriers and with a contract?
A: This will vary from country to country. Initially in the U.S., Apple Stores will only be selling the iPhone 5 on contract for all of the three supported carriers—AT&T, Verizon and Sprint—with the sale of unlocked, contract-free phones to become available in the weeks following the initial launch. Similarly, pre-orders from the Apple online store in the U.S. are also only available to purchase the iPhone 5 with a carrier contract, at the subsidized price. This follows the same schedule that was used last year with the release of the iPhone 4S, although in this case Apple has announced that unlocked phones will be available “in the coming weeks.”
This differs in other countries. In Canada, for example, the reverse is true with pre-orders, with only the full-price, unlocked version of the iPhone 5 being available to order online. Customers visiting a Canadian Apple Store on September 21st will be able to either purchase an unlocked version at full price or a carrier subsidized model at the appropriate contract price. Other countries such as the U.K. are taking a similar approach, with only unlocked sales available from the Apple Store online.
Note that although there are three different iPhone 5 models this time around, the same GSM iPhone 5 model is sold in both the U.S. and Canada, so U.S. customers who want to purchase an unlocked iPhone right away and live near a major Canadian city may want to consider taking a trip north across the border to a Canadian Apple Retail Store.