Though Apple released the iPhone 4S into the wild, Sprint has rounded them back up and put them into captivity.
Before Nov. 11, Sprint was selling the unlocked version of the iPhone 4S. That means owners could slip out the SIM card and put in a card of their choosing. That would allow the iPhone to operate on any carrier the user wanted. However, Sprint will now be locking the SIM card, according to a recent internal memo.
Though the SIM-card switch would allow users to switch the phone to any carrier they wanted, Apple has been saying the ability is for another use: global travel. Though the iPhone 4S can be used by Americans abroad using CDMA networks, data and calling for U.S. world phones can get pretty pricey. Being able to switch out SIM cards means travelers would be able to take advantage of local networks, avoiding the steep data costs. Now Sprint users will have to rely on Sprint Worldwide service for data use.
However, earlier adoption of the Sprint iPhone 4S does have its advantages, for once. Phones activated before Nov. 11 will not be affected by the SIM card locking, so people who bought them will still be able to switch out the cards willy-nilly. The internal memo also states that the locking occurs during the activation process and is invisible to the customer.
Though if you really want to get your hands on an unlocked phone, you can order it directly from Apple. A 16GB iPhone 4S will cost $649, a 32GB will cost $749, and a 64GB phone will cost $849. That is compared to the $199, $299 and $399 cost of the respective versions with a 2-year contract from AT&T, Sprint and Verizon.