The two things we previously heard about iPhone 3G activation on AT&T-mandatory in-store activation and a penalty if you don't activate within 30 days-seemed to contradict each other. Not anymore. Apple Insider has just heard through an internal memo that people can actually leave a retail store without activating their iPhone 3G as long as they've signed a form saying that they intend to register with a 2-year service plan within 30 days. The retail guys would then input the IMEI number of your phone into their machines, which would enter AT&T's Death Star tracking machine to allow them to know whether or not you've properly activated. Now it all makes sense. [Apple Insider - Thanks Joel!]
I've never had a problem with AT&T, honestly. In fact, several years ago, due to stupidity on my part, I managed to run up a $1000 bill for a single month. They waived $950 of it for me as soon as I called in. That act alone has basically ensured loyalty for the foreseeable future from me.
Anyway, having said that (and letting you all know of my possible bias), as soon as I heard about the subsidized iPhone, I knew it was going to work like this. That's the way it has always worked with AT&T and their predecessor Cingular, as far as I'm aware. I dont' have a problem with it. My contract is up for renewal in November, and I intend to get an iPhone at that time. (To replace my aging, and somewhat broken, Sony Ericsson s710a.)