With France and Germany forcing the matter, must Apple and its partners revise their exclusive iPhone deals - and what could it do for sales?

In brief, T-Mobile Germany this morning cofirmed plans to sell unlocked versions of the iPhone to bring the company into line with a court decision forced by competing network supplier, Vodafone, in the country this week.

While iPhone won't launch in France until maybe the end of the month, Apple's network partner in that country has already confirmed it intends selling an unlocked iPhone to bring the product release into line with French laws.

This news means that half of the countries iPhone seems set to be made initially available in will be selling the devices unlocked.

Buying an unlocked iPhone is a trade-off: while customers will be able to use the device on any network they like, including pay-as-you-go, the handset is more expensive and users must sacrifice some features, such as EDGE network support and Visual VoiceMail.

They will also lose any free WiFi deal being offered by Apple and its partner, such as free access to The Cloud network in the UK, available to O2 iPhone customers.

More essentially, customers choosing an unlocked iPhone will potentially lose any future network-based features Apple may choose to add to the device within future software updates. "All the complaints and feature requests we've had can be fixed and added by software upgrades," an Apple spokesman said this month.

But for many users, the need to tie themselves up to the tariffs offered by Apple's chosen partners is a turn-off.

Particularly in the UK market, users are accustomed to switching networks to get the best deal on calls and SMS messages.

Two major criticisms flying around UK discussions pertaining to the iPhone are its lack of 3G support and the need for customers to become permanently committed to O2.

The forced move to sell iPhones unlocked in France and Germany is actually a good thing, for all parties. Apple and its network partner seem capable of charging a premium rate - making profits. Customers can get their hands on an iPhone that they can choose to use on a network they can afford.

Even the mobile networks benefit. Those currently not tied to Apple will find themselves provided with valuable information underscoring the future huge popularity of the device, a move which will no doubt make any future bidding wars between themselves more bloody - and better for Apple and iPhone customers.

On the street, any move to make the device more available will eventually translate into more people using iPhones, creating a domino effect of presence, similar to that which made the iPod so prevalent and powerful.

The removal of one of the two key criticisms of the iPhone will also cause more people to buy one, choosing themselves whether to keep and employ all the device's features and stick with an Apple network partner, or to go for the best tariff by sticking a new SIM card in.

Happy customers, anxious networks, and profit for Apple and its partners can only be a good thing. Removing criticism of the product is also a good thing.

I'm coming round to the opinion that offering iPhones unlocked in all the countries it is made available in may transpire to be a smart move on the part of Apple.

It's a move which should only serve to make iPhone more ubiquitous.

For myself, I'm likely to stick with O2 as I enjoy many of the features only available to iPhone users on that network. Others may prefer to sacrifice such features in exchange for the freedom to use the device on networks with better coverage (in a customer's local area), or for more competitive call and SMS rates.