Buying an Unlocked iPhone in Canada

I just got home from waiting in line at the Apple Store to purchase an iPhone 5. Unfortunately, I didn’t come home with one.

It’s not because they didn’t have any. I don’t think there’s any shortage at retail; you can walk into the store right now and buy one. But you can’t buy it unlocked.

Last year, I waited in the same line at the same store, and bought an unlocked iPhone 4S. I wanted an unlocked one because of the freedom it gives me to pass the phone on to my wife, who uses a prepaid phone plan with no data. It’s cheaper to do it this way than to have both of us on contract.

This year, Apple changed the rules. You can’t get unlocked phone at retail. Only through the website.

I guess I was supposed to pick up on this from the wording, which is subtle. Here’s what the site says:

“Buy iPhone 5 at your favourite Apple Retail Store beginning at 8:00 a.m. on September 21. We can help you choose the right rate plan and get you up and running.”

Note that it says choose a rate plan. This means you’ll have to choose a rate plan, and choosing a rate plan means you have to buy it locked. Clear, right?

“We offer rate plans from Bell, Fido, Rogers, Telus and Virgin”

They forgot “… and you must take one of these rate plans”.

“The Apple Retail Store is the best place to buy an iPhone”

It used to be. The nice guy in the blue shirt asked me which carrier I wanted, and I said “unlocked”. He said he was sorry, but they only sold them locked. It’s a business decision that Apple has made, he said.

I waited about 2 hours at a store only to find that Apple has changed the rules and I can’t buy a phone at the store. I have to buy it through the website.

I find this really disappointing for a number of reasons.

The iPhone is an Apple product, and an unlocked iPhone is a pure Apple product. Why wouldn’t I be able to buy this at the Apple Store?

Apple gets residual revenue from carrier contracts, and speculation is that’s the reason for the change. Apple simply makes more money selling you a locked phone than an unlocked one.

I wasn’t the only person caught by this. There were other people in line planning to buy an unlocked phone, who were surprised at the change. The Apple staff at the store suggested buying a locked phone on a month to month plan, and then paying for a carrier unlock. This is a ridiculous suggestion coming from Apple.

This change in policy comes at the expense of customer service and satisfaction. This is a bad direction and I’m disappointed that Apple chose it.