yesterday, a german court ruled that the iPhone must be offered without contract restrictions in germany. this puts an end to the pressure that apple can put on consumers by bundling offers in a way which force consumers into buying something (such as a 2-year cellphone contract) even though they only want to buy something different (a cellphone).
now, i guess that for american culture, this kind of ruling looks rather weird. why can't apple do what it wants when it sells the iPhone? it simply is a question of how much control you want to give to powerful players (such as big companies), and how much you want to protect consumers from being exploited.
apple's innovative product along with its brilliant marketing has generated millions of new customers for AT&T, and even though the numbers are not made public, that probably translates into tens of millions of dollars AT&T is paying apple each month (rumor is that AT&T pays around $10 per iPhone per month). this money is taken directly from the pockets of the consumers, and ends up at apple, simply because they were powerful enough to do this kind of thing.
the question whether this is something that just happens, or whether you don't want to reward companies for the simple fact that they are powerful enough to do such a thing, is a question of society, culture, and politics. personally, i think apple would be doing fine without the additional dollars they can extract from customers by forcing them into contracts with one specific provider, but then again, the whole cell phone landscape is so full of schemes solely designed for being intransparent and tricking people, that it's hard to justify why only apple should be the subject of such a ruling.
apparently, apple and its german partner, t-mobile, have found a good way to somehow sabotage the ruling anyway: they sell the unlocked iPhone for €999 ($1'500), and EDGE will only work on the t-mobile network, which effectively disables all of the interesting features of the iPhone. so much for a nice clash of regulatory efforts and companies dealing with them...