Carrier locking thwarts international iPhone 5 buyers

A wannabee first iPhone 5 buyer (hiding inside his tent)
The Apple Store in downtown San Francisco Monday night


Chris Keall

As an iPhone 5 completist, I've taken the precaution of traveling to Apple's home town of San Francisco* for its instore launch this week (actually, a conference, but it happens to coincide).

The good news: it will be instore 8am on this Friday. Online pre-orders have already going off their socks - 2 million within the first 48 hours, Apple says (the pre-ordered phones will ship this Friday).

And check out the healthy crowd at this downtown San Francisco Apple store at 8.58pm on a Monday night. I popped along hoping there would be a preview iPhone 5 onhand so I could perve at the hardware, and fret about the Google apps pushed out of iOS 6. There wasn't.

Why the crowd? Many were attracted to the newly discounted iPhone 4S, a clerk told me.

The bad news: Apple's US web store offers no off-contract price, and the clerk said handsets arriving instore Friday would also be locked to AT&T, Sprint and Verizon customers (both locked to those networks, and only available tied to a two-year contract with those carriers). That's no good for the impatient and international bargain hunters (there goes my 10% commission).

The clerk said staff hadn't been told when contract-free models would be sold. But going on past form, he thought it would be a few months.

One fellow had set up a tent, this morning, ready for Friday's onsale date, but he zipped up inside when I got out my camera phone. "He's over doing it," a bored security guard told me.

I suspect Apple-mania will be unstoppable Friday, but this is definitely not a one horse town. San Francisco/Silicon Valley is Google's home turf, too. And just on my highly unscientific observation, at least as many convention goers are packing big-screen Androids as iPhones.

Lastly, it's hard to find much new in the universal everywhere that is the global village these days. But I was impressed, on my shuttle flight up from LA, that the woman sitting next to me was watching a football game live, courtesy of United Airlines hookup with satellite TV broadcaster DirectTV.

And while there's a handful of inflight-internet options being tried downunder, they're all at heart-attack prices. Here, Delta is offering unlimited wi-fi in a 24 hour period for a very reasonable $US12.

* Yes, I realise Cupertino is an outer outer suburb where San Fran starts to blend into San Jose, but let's not wreck the narrative. It's all one urban sprawl.

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