The joys of carrier relationships – or perhaps the downside of hiring short-term undertrained sales support during a product purchasing blitz – is that getting an intelligible answer about the price of an iPhone has become challenging.
First, I went online to test availability and typed a bunch of information in about my account so Apple's online store could work out my pricing. I saw Exhibit 1.
Puzzled why a $399 phone would actually cost $435, I called the number on the screen for clarification. The explanation was that AT&T didn't really subsidize the phone to the extent that it would be driven down to the price Apple advertised ($399) and that the "upgrade fee" priced the phone where AT&T and Apple were actually coming out on the deal where they expected. This explanation might be complete hogwash, but it was what I got from the guy answering a line dedicated to iPhone sales (to which I was transferred after speaking with a front-line phone responder and then tech support personnel).
Since the salesman was blaming this extra $36 on AT&T, I asked if he should happen to know what carrier might actually sell the iPhone 5 for the listed price. Without hesitation, he said Sprint. He said, if I were upgrading with Sprint, I'd get the listed price. Since I didn't have prior service with Sprint, of course, I would not be upgrading with Sprint. When I asked about new service with Sprint and a 2-year contract, Apple's iPhone sales rep said that new service would face the unsubsidized iPhone 5 charge of a gazillion billion dollars. Since I was sure this was, in fact, the unlocked price rather than the new-service price with a 2-year contract, I called B.S. but he was adamant.
Eventually when I explained the difference between unlocked purchases and purchases with a 2-year contract, Apple's iPhone-only sales rep said that new service with a 2-year contract from Sprint (not AT&T or Verizon) would sell for the listed price ... if I met Sprint's terms of qualification.
So, what are those terms of qualification?
He couldn't tell me.