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Apple again sells contract-free, carrier-locked US iPhones

Like it did in March of last year, Apple this week at its retail stores began selling the iPhone at an unsubsidized price without the standard two-year AT&T contract agreement. Also as before, the phone, which costs as much as $700, remains locked to the exclusive U.S. wireless provider.

Apple stores made the change Monday, selling new iPhones at an unsubsidized, contract-free price. The low-end 8GB iPhone 3G sells for $499, the 16GB iPhone 3GS is $599, and the top-end 32GB iPhone 3GS sells for $699.

Gizmodo obtained a copy of the internal Apple memo detailing the policy change at Apple stores. It was first published for employees of the company on Monday.

"Effective immediately, customers purchasing iPhone as device only at full price are no longer required to have an A&T account or provide a form of ID," the memo to all U.S. employees reads. "Device only full price iPhone sales are limited to one person per day."

The memo notes that while customers are limited to one iPhone per day, they can still purchase up to five handsets in a day if they agree to an AT&T contract. The terms of the deal also dictate that users can only buy 10 iPhones at full-price in their lifetime.

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It was about a year ago, in late March of 2009, when Apple began selling the iPhone 3G without a contract. The non-subsidized 8GB version carried a $599 price tag, while the 16GB model cost $699. The sale preceded the launch of the iPhone 3GS.

As was the case a year ago, activation is completed by the customer at home through iTunes. The iPhone can be unlocked through a warranty-voiding technique known as "jailbreaking," but the 3G radio in Apple's handset does not support the high-speed data network of the only other GSM-based carrier in the U.S., T-Mobile. That means that potential unlockers would be restricted to slower EDGE data speeds.

Much like in 2009, Apple is likely looking to sell off inventory to prepare for the coming launch of the new 2010 iPhone. Last June, at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple unveiled the iPhone 3GS, which added a faster processor and the ability to record video.