Apple

Apple launching unlocked, SIM card-free iPhones in the United States

In a sign that the iPhone 6 is nearing supply/demand balance, Apple will begin selling unlocked versions of the iPhone in the US tomorrow.

iPhone 6

When Apple launches a new product, especially an iPhone or iPad, it's not uncommon for the company to have trouble meeting demand in the early weeks or months of availability. This is especially true with redesigns of products, like the iPhone 4s to the 5 and the 5s to the 6.

Some skeptics believe that Apple intentionally limits supply to ensure sellouts on launch day, but I don't buy that for a second. The company is in the business of making money, and every sale lost to a lack of product is a sale that might not come back. Besides, it's much more likely that Apple experiences a ramp up in production of devices that resolves itself over several months as the company improves its manufacturing processes and its suppliers improve yield.

With the iPhone, in particular, there's always massive pent-up demand for a new device when it launches, due to Apple's once-per-year release cycle. This is amplified by an iPhone launch like the one for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, where a long-awaited feature — larger screens — is finally released.

Thanks to a new report that says Apple will begin selling unlocked, SIM card-free iPhone 6 models in its US retail and online stores tomorrow, we can assume that Apple is getting close to supply/demand balance, at least in the United States.

An unlocked phone can be used on any GSM network in the world simply by inserting a SIM-card provided by a local carrier. It's an advantage for international travelers and iPhone owners who wish to be able to change between eligible carriers without needing to jump through any hoops.

Though unlocked devices are available through Apple's online store with a T-Mobile SIM, Apple has traditionally held back unlocked, SIM-less iPhones for several months following the initial release. It's widely assumed that this holdback is due to supply constraints, as these unlocked devices have (in the past) been frequently purchased by grey market resellers looking to move them to other countries that do not yet have the iPhone through standard channels.

As Apple has improved its launch strategy, such as designing recent iPhone models to work across more carriers around the world (meaning Apple's manufacturing partners have fewer SKU's to build) so as to reduce supply chain complexity, it has been able to launch in more countries earlier in the new product cycle.

With Apple's first fiscal quarter earnings announcement coming in a few weeks, we should get a good indication of just how in balance Apple is with the iPhone 6. CEO Tim Cook is a supply chain master, frequently referring to metrics like channel inventory, sell-through, and supply/demand balance in earnings calls to illustrate to investors the true state of Apple's product sales.

The release of the unlocked iPhone 6 in the US, which is a little more than a week following the end of the holiday quarter, suggests that Apple has indeed gotten close to meeting demand.

In the past couple of years, Apple launched unlocked versions of its smartphone in November, suggesting the company has seen stronger demand (or, less likely, weaker production numbers) for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus than it did for either the iPhone 5 or 5s in 2012 and 2013.

The iPhone 6 will be available unlocked for $650/750/850 (USD) for 16 GB/64 GB/128 GB capacities, and the unlocked iPhone 6 Plus will be available for $750/850/950 in the same storage sizes.

As most countries around the world charge sales tax, buyers looking for the most inexpensive new iPhone possible can head to the few US states that charge no sales tax on purchases, including New Hampshire, Delaware, and Oregon.

Do you have any interest in an unlocked iPhone? Let us know in the comments below.

About Jordan Golson

Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.

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