In the past, to buy an iPhone you’ve had to either deal with Apple or one of its worldwide providers directly, or try your chances with online retailers, some of whom can be rather shady. Getting a carrier unlocked version was even trickier. But as of next week, Germans will be able to walk into a store designed just for the purpose and pick one up off the shelf.
The store, called 3Gstore.de, is a brick-and-mortar extension of the online retailer of the same name. It sells legally unlocked iPhones to German customers, and has done so since the release of the iPhone 3G. 3Gstore.de even went so far as to sue T-Mobile Germany for false advertising, since the carrier claimed it was the exclusive purveyor of the devices, despite European free trade agreements which make device exclusivity illegal.
Next week, on September 9 at 9:09 local time (09.09.09 @ 9:09, get it?), 3Gstore.de will open a physical retail store (photos in the gallery below) in the German city of Bochum, located in the bustling metropolitan area of the Ruhrgebiet. On offer will be 3G and 3GS iPhones, contract free and officially sim-unlocked. Customers who buy these devices can then sign up for a service plan with the provider of their choice — either O2, Vodafone, or ePlus, in addition to T-Mobile.
For us here in North America, it sounds like some fantastic dream. Sure, the prices are downright jaw-dropping (€999 for a 32GB 3GS, for example), but imagine the freedom, the sheer public nature of it all. Right there in the open, no jailbreak, no shady independent electronics retailer offering unlocking services on Craigslist.
You could plan an iPhone-tourism trip to Bochum, if the picture I’ve just painted is that appealing. But it’s possible that won’t be necessary, since in the very near future, the U.S. might have iPhone stores of their very own. The FCC’s investigation into AT&T/Apple relationship could always bear fruit, if you’ll pardon the pun, and result in the kind of antitrust laws surrounding device exclusivity that 3Gstore.de is taking advantage of.
The people behind 3Gstore.de are all just really big iPhone fans who want other users to have the freedom to choose. T-Mobile has tried to stifle them at every turn, even going so far as to try to limit what kinds of product images the much smaller company can use to promote its iPhone sales. It’s a true David and Goliath story, and if I was anywhere near Germany I’d be there on September 9 celebrating the store’s opening. Not buying a phone, mind you. $1400 USD is a little too rich for my blood. But I’ll be buying one in spirit.