Apple, AT&T unveil iPhone rate plans

The device can be activated with iTunes, cutting in-store time on Friday

Apple Inc. and iPhone partner AT&T Inc. announced three new service plans specifically for the iPhone, all with unlimited data, that range from $60 to $100 a month. iPhone owners, however, will be able to choose from any standard AT&T plan.

"We want to make choosing a service plan simple and easy, so every plan includes unlimited data with direct Internet access," said Apple CEO Steve Jobs in a statement.

The three unlimited data plans include 450 monthly call minutes for $59.99, 900 minutes for $79.99 and 1,350 minutes for $99.99. Each also comes with 200 SMS text messages, unlimited mobile-to-mobile calling and access to the iPhone's new Visual Voicemail, a feature that lets users select specific messages from a list rather than having to listen to each in turn. The two higher-priced monthly plans provide unlimited night and weekend minutes -- for AT&T, night hours start at 9:00 p.m. local time -- while the least expensive sports a 5,000-minute allowance.

Those prices are in line with existing AT&T plans. A 450-minute personal voice plan, for instance, currently costs $39.99, while the carrier's unlimited-data SmartPhone Connect plan runs $19.99. They also match or beat the best guesses by most analysts, who had pegged $80 as the monthly minimum for an iPhone voice/data plan.

Existing AT&T customers can add unlimited data for $20 (with 200 text messages), $30 (for 1,500 messages) or $40 (for unlimited texting) a month; several family-style plans will also be available, according to the Apple Web site. Those plans range from $80 per month for 700 shared minutes to $120 monthly for 2,100 shared minutes. All buyers can also keep their existing phone numbers, including transfers of numbers currently served by other mobile carriers.

As predicted, the activation charge for the iPhone will be AT&T's standard $36.

Apple also said today that iPhone buyers will be able to activate the device using its popular iTunes program on either Macs or Windows PCs, a move that should cut down on the time people spend in stores this weekend. "Users will be able to activate their new iPhone in the comfort and privacy of their own home or office, without having to wait in a store," said Jobs.

To activate over iTunes, buyers must have an iTunes account -- which in turn requires a major credit card -- as well as a valid Social Security number; the latter is an AT&T requirement and used as part of its credit check process. After the iPhone is activated, iTunes will synchronize audio and video content on the Mac or PC with the phone, as well as import phone numbers and other contact information, calendars, e-mail accounts and browser bookmarks to the iPhone. Previously, Apple had said that iPhone buyers would require an iTunes account, and that those without access to the online music store should set up an account before purchasing the phone.

Apple has posted a seven-minute video demo of iTunes activating an iPhone and synchronizing data on the local computer with the device. A model -- dressed in a black T-shirt no less, walks users through the procedure.

According to the video, the iTunes-to-iPhone sync moves contacts from the Mac address book and the Yahoo online list -- no mention was made of any Windows-specific addresses, however -- to the iPhone, while calendar items can be imported from iCal and Entourage on the Mac, and from Outlook on the PC. Bookmarks stored within either Safari (either the Mac or Windows edition; the latter is beta only) or Internet Explorer (Windows only) can be moved to the iPhone's version of Safari. Mozilla Corp.'s Firefox is not supported, another slight that may add to Mozilla's suspicions that Apple's targeting its browser for elimination.

Some service plan facts are still unclear, even with today's announcements. Neither Apple nor AT&T has said whether an early termination fee -- to activate the iPhone, users must commit to a two-year plan -- is different from the standard AT&T $175.

The iPhone goes on sale Friday, June 29, at 6:00 p.m. local time, for $499 (4GB model) and $599 (8GB), at AT&T and Apple retail stores. Apple's online store will also be selling the phone beginning Friday.

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