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Sunday, September 21, 2008, 04:30 pm PT (07:30 pm ET)

Update: 'home' activation no signal of unlocked US iPhone sales

New information has clarified that the home activation option visible to Apple Store retail employees actually relates to sales made where the customer pre-qualifies at home, rather than the potential for new unlocked iPhone 3G sales offered without a subsidy.

During the iPhone 3G activation process, retail employees report, new iPhones originally ring up as $299 or $399, and are then discounted in the activation process using an instant rebate from AT&T that is tied to setting up a new contract.

AT&T customers who have already been credited with a recent phone unit subsidy aren't eligible for the discount. Some other customers have mobile contracts that are paid by their employer or involve other special circumstances that Apple retail employees aren't able to process as a regular sale.

In order to service these customers, a special home pre-qualification web site has been set up so that users can find if they are qualified by AT&T for a phone unit subsidy. Users can set up their account at home so that everything is ready to go when they make their iPhone 3G purchase at a retail store.

The new "Home" option that retail employees are seeing on their EasyPay terminals is designed to allow them to use this home pre-qualification step to accelerate the transaction of a new iPhone 3G. That also indicates there is no impending potential for unlocked iPhone 3G sales in the US, although this is expected at some point.

Also on the horizon is a reshuffling of iPhone 3G models, with the likely introduction of a 32GB model and the discontinuation of the 8GB unit. However, the 8GB version continues to enjoy widespread popularity and additional checks with other retail stores indicates that there does not appear to be any immediate plan to drop the model.

Based upon the historical timing of the introduction of last year's updates, a new 32GB iPhone 3G is not likely to be introduced until after the holiday season.