Updated at 12:00pm to clarify the French law on unlocked cell phones, and at 1:43pm with comment from Apple.
The iPhone on Friday will make its debut in the United Kingdom and Germany, the first countries outside of the United States to get their hands on Apple's first mobile phone.
For months, many (including this guy) had expected Apple to wade into the European mobile-phone market with a 3G iPhone, but virtually the same model that's available in the States will be presented to British and German users of O2 and T-Mobile's networks, respectively. The 8GB iPhone is going to cost 269 pounds in the U.K.($563.87 as of this writing) and 399 euros ($583.84), including VAT in both countries.
It will be very interesting to see how the iPhone is received in Europe. Sophisticated smartphones and fast 3G networks are the norm in many places, not a novelty. Still, the combination of the touch-screen interface and the iPod capabilities should tempt some European consumers; at the Intel Developer Forum in September, I noticed more than one member of the British press sneaking over to the San Francisco Apple store to acquire an iPhone, presumably with plans to unlock it for the carrier of their choice.
According to reports, there will be at least one significant change arriving with the European iPhones: OS X 1.1.2. UPDATED: Apple confirmed Thursday afternoon that OS X 1.1.2 will ship tomorrow "to support the international launch of the iPhone."
The software update, which will presumably be delivered to all iPhone owners, is said to fix the TIFF image flaw that allowed the iPhone to be rehacked after the 1.1.1 update disabled third-party applications. It will also probably escalate the hacking wars by making the iPhone more impervious to both third-party applications and unlocking, the real source of consternation for Apple.
Later this month, France will be the third European destination for the iPhone, and Apple and Orange, the wireless carrier selected for France, might have to make a concession to the forces of unlocking. Apparently, it's against French law to sell mobile phones locked to a specific network, though Apple has not confirmed whether its French iPhone will be locked.
UPDATED: At the suggestion of a reader, I looked into this a little more, and it's not explicitly against the law to sell locked phones. However, the law requires that French carriers unlock phones if the customer requests it, and they have to let customers do that for free after six months.