Apple Launches iPhone 3G Online Buying Tool

Customers still can't get an iPhone 3G shipped to their homes, but the online tools could speed up the sign-up process.

Apple has rolled out an online tool that could streamline the process of buying an iPhone 3G.

By visiting a special Web page, potential buyers can fill out their billing information, select a rate plan, and pay for a handset. Customers will have to go into an Apple retail store to physically get the smartphone, as well as finish the activation process.

When the iPhone 3G launched in July, its 3G capabilities, App Store, GPS chip, and lower price point led to long lines and some shortages. These problems were exacerbated by the fact that each customer had to do their activation and signup in the store.

This was a departure from the first-generation iPhone, which could be purchased in stores and activated from home by syncing it with iTunes. The in-store signup and activation, coupled with millions trying to download the 2.0 firmware, led to Apple's servers being overwhelmed on launch day.

The in-store activation requirement appeared to be on behalf of AT&T, which was taking a financial hit to subsidize the iPhone 3G. The carrier wanted to ensure that the latest Apple handset wasn't being unlocked to run on other carriers, although that hack occurred a few days after launch anyway.

The online tool is just the latest move by Apple to increase iPhone sales and hit its goal of 10 million units sold by the end of the year. The touch-screen smartphone is now available in Best Buy, and analysts are estimating the company will sell 5 million units in this quarter.

Additionally, the upgraded iPhone has many enterprise-friendly elements and businesses are considering it for their mobile workforce. InformationWeek recently published a report titled "6 Top Technologies For Remote Office Support ... And 2 To Avoid" that addresses implementing Apple's handset. The report can be downloaded here (registration required).

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