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Wednesday, July 09, 2008, 05:10 pm PT (08:10 pm ET)

UK Apple stores to sell iPhone 3G on launch after all

Casting aside worries that iPhone 3G buyers in Britain would have to shop at O2 and Carphone Warehouse, a new report claims Apple UK will sell the devices itself — albeit with an important catch.

Sources speaking to Ars Technica claim that Apple's official retail outlets in the country will accept iPhone customers either signing up as new O2 subscribers or else existing customers adding an extra line for a friend or family member.

These locations won't, however, accommodate upgrades. Anyone upgrading an individual or family plan will still have to turn to O2 and Carphone Warehouse to make the switch, according to the report; this could be a potential problem with expected shortages for at least O2 retail shops.

Conveniently, Apple's Regent Street flagship store has "loads" of iPhones waiting to be sold, the alleged insiders say.

The reason behind the partial access isn't known, though the update if true would stand as a last-minute save for the Cupertino, Calif.-based company that would prevent a potential imbalance O2 warned of last month: in late June, a company official cautioned that Apple stores might be locked out of offering anything but the simplest pay-as-you-go plans due to the absence of a proper sign-up system.

The extension of sales to Apple would also quash rumors that only American stores will be capable of signing up customers and activating their devices in-store. While it's unknown exactly how many countries with Apple retail locations will also sell phones directly, the purported addition of UK sales would weaken arguments that Apple Canada can't offer iPhone 3G for technical reasons and lend slightly more support to (since-denied) claims that Apple is punishing Rogers for scaring away customers with high data rates.

In addition to news of UK sales, Ars also hears that Apple has taken the extra precaution of excluding a SIM card from the iPhone box with the 3G model. An explanation for this isn't given, though it not only lets the company sell the iPhone more easily through multiple carriers — it also prevents iPhones from leaving the store without an active account tied to the SIM card.