Apple has figured out a way to let prospective iPhone 3G buyers get a few of the steps out of the way at home.
The activation process is still not quite as smooth as the one that greeted new owners of the original iPhone, but Apple and AT&T seem to have figured out a way to make things a little easier while keeping the unlockers at bay as much as possible. A visit to an Apple or AT&T store is still required, but some of the preliminary details can now be completed via the Internet.
For instance, you can enter your billing information to generate the credit check required for a new contract, pick a rate plan, and make an appointment to pick up an iPhone 3G. The phone still needs to be activated in the store, which is Apple and AT&T's way of trying to deter those who wish to unlock the phone and resell it for a profit.
This may not apply to everyone, such as those who have business accounts or other special discounts, but should streamline the process a bit for everyone else. Piper Jaffray thinks Apple will have sold 5 million iPhone 3Gs in the current quarter, and this process could make it a little easier for holiday shoppers toward the end of the year.