What is this iPhone 3G S/AT&T upgrade pricing brouhaha really about?

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There has been plenty of ink spilled over the 3G S upgrade (“Now faster with oleoresistant skin!”) and it’s abundantly clear what folks are trying to do here. Early adopters have always chafed at having to pay outrageous fees for upgrades inside of a contract period. Be it the latest RAZR a few years ago or the latest iPhone today, the same obsessives who are ranting about iPhone upgrade pricing were trying this same trick years ago – but now they have some leverage.

All said and done you’ll probably pay $499 for the new iPhone if you’re in contract and you’ve been a good AT&T customer. Not too shabby if you’re the kind of person who needs to upgrade. But the folks making the biggest noise are aiming to change the upgrade paradigm here. They’re calling and threatening to switch the the Pre. They’re filing petitions. They’re ranting on Twitter. Poor AT&T – if such a phrase should ever be said of a carrier – will have to react and they’ll probably react by creating an early adopter precedent and creating a special price for people who are calling to whine. General outrage and excoriation are useful tools for the consumer troll.

Will the upgrade pricing situation change for the 3G S2 or the 3G S++ or whatever the next iteration will be called? Absolutely not. AT&T has a good thing going here. But look for class action lawsuits and faux-outrage to come. This is just the beginning, especially if Apple and AT&T continue using low prices as bait… as carriers for time immemorial have done.

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