Apple hasn't announced buy-outright prices for the iPhone 5 in the US, but over the border in Canada you'll be able to pick one up for US$720. That's 15 percent cheaper than the Australian price, 16 percent less than in the UK, and a 19 percent saving on what the French pay. Given shipping, channel, and administration costs, that doesn't sound like an excessive mark-up. It's certainly not enough to warrant setting up your own parallel-importing business for iPhones.
For Aussies and Europeans, this is welcome news that we'd like to see adopted by software vendors. Microsoft Office Home and Student 2010, for example, sells for just 10 percent more than the US price in Canada, but 48 percent more in the UK, and it's a massive 65 percent higher in Australia. This for a product that can be downloaded; it doesn't necessarily need to be boxed and shipped.
Apple's relatively level playing field for buying an iPhone extends to the cost of using your device. It's hard to draw an exact comparison, because different carriers have difficult inclusions, so it really is like comparing an Apple with an orange — if you'll excuse the obvious pun. Still, no country is a shining light in terms of offering better value for money, and there's certainly no clear advantage to living in the US.
This chart shows how much you'll have to pay to get a plan that includes at least 2GB of data (we've assumed that voice call costs will increasingly become irrelevant). Over two years, the cost of a plan and a new iPhone is similar for Virgin Mobile and Orange in the UK, closely followed by Vodafone UK, AT&T in the US, and Optus in Australia.
Of course, there are significant differences in the offerings, including the extent and quality of the 4G networks. Telstra ranks on the high side, but has strong 4G coverage. Virgin Mobile is one of the few providers in the world to ditch the "use it or lose it" premise for mobile plans, allowing some degree of carry-over of data allowance from one month to the next (although it's more complicated than you might think). US providers have very useful multi-user plans, to encourage family members to share data plans — something that's yet to really take off in Europe or Australia. Sprint offers unlimited on-net data (the definition of which must be hard for consumers to grasp), and competitive hotspot pricing for extra data. At this point, we should add the disclaimer that if for any reason the price in the chart doesn't reflect the actual price you pay, it's because phone companies around the world have devised plans that are only understandable by someone with a doctorate in hyper-mathematics.
The conclusion — aside from mobile plans being nigh on impossible to compare — is that unlike most aspects of technology, iPhone users in one part of the world are unlikely to be heavily discriminated against on price. For software, flat-screen TVs, cameras, video, and music downloads, yes, Aussies and Europeans are being ripped off. But for the device that is central to many people's lives, at least we can take solace in the fact that everyone is paying about the same. That makes a change.