Unlocked iPhone 4: Par For Europe, Is Apple Now Bringing It To The U.S.?

These days in mobile, it feels like the U.S. has been setting the pace for how other markets adopt trends — whether it’s buying smartphones, the app craze or LTE. Now it looks like we might see one example of the U.S. taking a lead from abroad, with reports that the Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) iPhone 4 finally might be sold “unlocked” and not tied to a carrier contract, something that consumers in other countries have long been able do to.

According to a tweet from the iPhone developer Chronicwire, come Wednesday of this week, Apple will be selling, for the first time, iPhone 4 devices in the U.S. that will not be tied to a contract with AT&T (NYSE: T) or Verizon:

Since posting this yesterday, the tweet has spread like a small wildfire among other blogs like BGR, because of the past track record of Chronicwire making spot-on calls on other Apple-related news.

Those outside of the U.S. might ask at this point, “So what?” That’s because in regions like Europe, the iPhone 4 has been sold directly by Apple, as well as via operators on contract, from the moment the device went on sale last year (one page, from the Apple online store for Germany, is illustrated here).

It has meant that users have been able to change carriers, and calling plans, more easily, and swap out SIMs if traveling to another country. Significantly, it has also spawned a whole different set of competitive tariffs for those users who opt out of two-year contracts.

All things that, up to now, have been unknown in the U.S.

But if the news is true, it raises some other questions: Will this mean that users will finally be able to get the iPhone on networks like Sprint’s? Will the device be sold in two variants, UMTS and CDMA? And are carriers also gearing up to have iPhone-specific plans for those who buy the devices?

Selling the iPhone unlocked (presumably because the exclusive distribution deals with carriers are running out) would be a canny move for Apple to widen its user base on what is effectively a one-year-old device, and just in time for a new wave of users to take advantage of its updated operating system, and the opportunities to upsell users in-store directly to Apple’s new enhanced services.

Given the obvious advantage for Apple, one could imagine that even if this doesn’t happen in two days’ time, it will happen soon enough.