A reader of my blog asked a series of good questions and I thought it may be something all readers will be interested in, so I decided to create a post to answer him. Jonathan asked:
If I simply buy the phone from the Apple store (unlocked) and then get the sim from vodafone (they have a deal on at the moment) will it be as simple as putting it in and turning it on, and I'm good to go? Also, is there anything I need to be aware of when I am choosing my contract?
Yes, all iPhones purchased legitimately in Hong Kong from the mobile carrier Three ("3") or Apple HK Online Store are full carrier (SIM) unlocked iPhone 3G, and will accept any SIM cards that support the GSM: 850, 900, 1800, 1900MHz and/or GSM 3G: 850, 900, 1900, 2100MHz.
Since Apple's EULA for the iPhone 3G purchased in Hong Kong states that you are suppose to use the iPhone 3G in Hong Kong. I suggest activating the iPhone using a SIM card from one of the Hong Kong carriers and iTunes HK Apple ID, just in case Apple has some hidden way to check your compliance to the EULA.
After you have activated the iPhone 3G you can point your iTunes to any of the other country specific iTunes Stores you like. One thing you must remember is that the iPhone can only be associated with one iTunes and iTunes Store (Apple ID) account at a time. Any music, movies and applications purchase from a particular iTunes Store/account will not work if you are not logged into and your iTunes is authorized by the same account.
If you are a regular reader of my blog you will know that I am against signing contracts with mobile carriers. Since mobile plans in Hong Kong changes (drops) every 6 - 8 months. Most of the carriers in Hong Kong have reasonably priced non-contractual plans except 1010 and One2Free. In most cases, the small amount of money you save each month is not worth the extra you pay over the duration of the contract.
No matter what tariff plan you choose, you should pay attention to the type of data traffic it covers. Many of the data plans from Hong Kong carriers have very strict limits on the kind of traffic covered by the data plan. Any other type of data traffic will incur extra charges or not allowed. Example of the types of data traffic not allowed are VoIP and Bittorrent.
You can see examples of plans from different local carriers in my post New Tariff Plan from Smartone-Vodafone for iPhone the subsequence post Is Smartone-Vodafone’s IOM Value Pack Right for iPhone? will also be useful. Although, these articles are a bit dated it will give you the understanding necessary, to ask the right questions when you speaks to the sales people from the respective carriers. In most cases you will be more informed than the sales people, so make sure you read all the small small prints before committing. The one consistent exception had been from staff from Smartone-Vodafone. They seem to be very knowledgeable, but like any sales person, they may not tell you about certain points if you don't ask.
If you decide to jailbreak your iPhone, you should take a look at my post 7 Things You Love to Ask About iPhone Unlocking before you begin. At the moment there are only 2 applications that tempt me to jailbreak my iPhone 3G; they are BiteSMS and Qik. For the latter, the developers had said an approved iPhone App will be available on the iTunes Store, unfortunately that was over six months ago and we still have not seen Qik on the iPhone App Store.
When I had my iPhone (2G) I only had a few "unauthorized" iPhone Apps on my iPhone that I used regularly, but because it was an unlocked (hacked) iPhone, I took the opportunity to try many "unauthorized" iPhone applications over the year an a half that I owned it. Now I have an official unlocked iPhone with AppleCare I am more reluctant to jailbreak if I don't have to.
Having said that, my decision of not jailbreaking may change overnight, as great iPhone Apps; both authorized and unauthorized, are released almost every day.
I hope this helps clarify some of the uncertainties people have for buying an iPhone 3G in Hong Kong and most importantly the reader, Jonathan's, questions.
PS: there is always a chance that Three's contract with Apple will end soon, as a result Apple will finally lower the price of the iPhone to a more reasonable price and begin selling it at Premium Authorized Resellers in Hong Kong. Also Apple may lower the price of existing models to make room for a higher end model to be released soon (most likely June 2009).
[Updated: February 8, 2009]
You may have read in forums and elsewhere about the "iPhone Carrier Update" dialog presented by iTunes each time the iPhone is connected to iTunes 7.7 or later. In the past I had suggested that if your iPhone is "carrier unlocked"; not connected to one of the Apple carrier partners in your country, you should not apply this update when Apple's dialog comes up.
The reason is because the "iPhone Carrier Update" will update settings relating to the "carrier partner(s)" within your iPhone, and if your iPhone was unlocked and your SIM card is not from one of the "carrier partner(s)" the APN settings (data settings) of your iPhone will be overridden, causing you to have to update these settings each time.