Here's an interesting concept - O2 has launched a new leasing service for the iPhone where they own the phone and you just rent it from them for a 12-month period.
It's imaginatively called O2 Lease and here's how it works: You get a new iPhone (or something similar) with no up-front payment but have to shell out £55 a month. That gives you insurance (presumably compulsory), 750 mins, unlimited texts and 500MB. For that, you get a 16GB handset or you can bump your monthly payments up to £65GB and get a 32GB version.
The interesting point is that there's no mention of the word "iPhone" anywhere in O2's press release, but given the structure of the deals, that's surely what we're talking about here. Whether the non-commital wording means you're also free to go for a rival handset with similar specs, or is simply the result of Apple not having OK'd the copy ahead of the release being pushed out we're not sure, but we're not sure what to make of it all, to be honest.
Here's the main bit of the release: "O2 Lease puts the latest smartphone technology into the hands of the people who want it with minimal barriers, little long-term commitment, no upfront cost, no two-year contracts and crucially, at £55 with insurance, minutes, text and data an affordable price point.
"It provides certainty and predictability of costs for customers, a genuinely new way of engaging with those that want the latest smartphone and the latest technology every year, but either can't afford the relatively high upfront cost of a normal 12 month contract or don't want to be tied to a long contract. "
But our pessimistic juices are starting to flow here. First of all, quite what world O2 is living in where £55 a month for a mobile phone is classed as "affordable", it's clearly not Planet Earth circa the end of 2011. Plus, when you consider that if you go over your minutes or 500MB data limit (and the latter is pretty likely on the iPhone), the additional charges you'll pick up will make that "certainty and predictability of costs for customers" line seem pretty ridiculous.
Secondly, it sounds a bit like O2 is trying to reinvent the contract here just when progress is finally being made towards 12-month contracts gaining some sort of foothold despite the networks' preference for 18- and 24-month deals.
We can see the draw to people who don't want to pay for a phone up front, and it's obvious that O2 would push that side of things given the high cost of hopping on board the iPhone bandwagon in the first place. But there's another way of putting it: with O2 Lease you'll be paying a total of £660 over the 12-month period, with absolutely nothing to show for it at the end.
Nevertheless, O2 insists it is the future: "Innovation is not just about product, it is also about service, providing new ways for people to buy. We want to ensure that customers can pick and use the right option for them."
Well, if nothing else O2 certainly knows how to talk a good game. If you're interested, O2 Lease is available now in stores or on the blower.