What you need to know now about iPhone 4

When, where and how much

The mystery, such as it was this year, is over. We know what the iPhone 4 looks like.

Just like the prototype lost in that Redwood City, Calif. bar. Or was it stolen?

And you probably already know about the iPhone 4's sharper screen, its front-facing camera and video chat capabilities.

With all that out of the way, we can get to the important things, such as how much, when, where, and how much was that again?

Those are the first questions. You'll have more, we're sure.

When does the iPhone 4 go on sale? In the U.S., France, Germany, Japan and the U.K., the new iPhone debuts Thursday, June 24. U.S. customers can queue up at Apple and AT&T retail outlets, as well as at Best Buy and Wal-Mart stores. No word at the moment about when doors will open. (Last year, Apple let people in starting at 8 a.m. local time, while AT&T's opened an hour earlier, although only for customers who pre-ordered via the Web or at a store.)

When can I order one? Both Apple and AT&T start taking pre-orders Tuesday, June 15. Consumers in the four other countries -- France, Germany, Japan and the U.K. -- also can place pre-orders that day.

If I pre-order, when will I get my iPhone 4? Apple didn't say, but AT&T did: "Preorders can be shipped directly to a customer's home or business for delivery as early as June 24," said the carrier in a statement today.

You can assume that Apple will do the same. (It shipped the iPad, for instance, to arrive on the same day the tablet went on sale.)

The alternative is to reserve one, then pick it up at a local Apple store on the 24th. AT&T offers at-store pickup for pre-orders, but you'll be a day late: Friday, June 25 is the first day for picking up preorders through the carrier.

Do I have to stand in line? Nope. Like last year, buyers can order online, and have the iPhone 4 delivered to their door. If you're dead set on getting out of the house, reserve one for pickup at an Apple or AT&T store.

How much will it cost? If you're not an AT&T subscriber, you qualify for the subsidized prices of $199 for the 16GB iPhone 4, $299 for the 32GB model.

Already an AT&T customer with an iPhone? There's a better chance you're eligible for the discounted prices than last year, when subscribers raised a big stink over a $200 surcharge that AT&T levied on customers who had not fulfilled most or all of their two-year contract. (Under pressure, AT&T relented last year, giving customers eligible in July, August and September immediate access to the lower prices.)

This time, AT&T has said every iPhone owner scheduled for upgrade pricing between Monday and the end of the year is immediately eligible for the $199/$299 prices.

To see if you've made the grade, check your account online at the att.com, or dial *639# (star-639-pound) from your iPhone. (The latter results in a returned text message.)

Not eligible. What now? Either wait it out until you qualify for the subsidized prices, or pony up $200 extra.

That means the 16GB iPhone 4 will set you back $399, while the beefier 32GB device will cost $499. Yikes.

Cash flow ... well, it doesn't. What are my cheaper iPhone options? You have a couple.

As of Monday, Apple and AT&T have discounted the iPhone 3GS: The 16GB smartphone costs $149.99, the 32GB $199.99. The usual two-year contract still applies.

Beginning June 24, a new $99 8GB iPhone 3GS debuts.

What will AT&T's data plan cost? Things get sticky here because of AT&T's switch to capped data plans last week.

As a new AT&T customer, you'll have pick between a $15/month or $25/month for a 200MB or 2GB data plan, respectively. Want to text? That'll run you between $5 a month (for 200 messages per month) to $20/month (for unlimited).

But if you're already an iPhone owner, you can keep the $30 unlimited plan as long as you like, assuming you don't care to tether. (Or you can switch to one of the capped plans to save a few.)

AT&T's individual calling plans start at $39.99 per month (450 minutes) and top out at $69.99/month (unlimited minutes). That means the minimum monthly is $39.99 plus $15, or $54.99 (plus taxes); the lowest-priced deal with texting is $59.99. Over the 24-month contract, that means you'll shell out at least $1,319.76 (plus taxes, regulatory and other fees), or $1,439.76 with minimum texting.

But look on the bright side: That minimum is $360 less than last year. (Not if you're keeping the $30 all-you-can-eat data pan; then the two-year minimum is the same as 2009...$1,679.76.

Any other charges? AT&T tacks on an $18 upgrade activation fee for existing users, half the $36 it dings new customers to activate a new line. At times, AT&T waives the activation fee for upgraders.

I don't live in one of the first five countries. What's my timeline? Apple's said that the iPhone 4 will be available in another 18 countries -- including Australia, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden -- by the end of July.

The rest of the world has to wait until the end of September, when the company rolls out the iPhone 4 worldwide.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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