Well, it took a year, but we've finally got a VoIP-equipped iPhone.

Developer Fring on Monday unveiled a prerelease version of software that allows any unlocked iPhone to chat or make calls. All common VoIP clients are supported, including Skype.

Never has rule breaking been so cool.

Too bad the iEmpire can't be thrilled with Fring's breakthrough. Not officially, at least. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) has a five-year exclusive distribution deal with AT&T (NYSE: T) here in the U.S. Telefonica's (NYSE: TEF) O2 and France Telecom's (NYSE: FTE) Orange are among theĀ companies that haveĀ inked deals with Apple abroad.

Enabling Skype or any of its VoIP peers on the iPhone would have the effect of piling up a few hundred free minutes without paying these carriers for the privilege. (As I said, rule breaking.)

But shouldn't Apple and everyone else have seen this coming? I was talking about it a year ago and, back then, I was the falsetto in a chorus of baritones. Sure the iPhone is worth $600, I wrote. Any device poised to break the rules so thoroughly would have to be.

Apple has since lowered the price on the iPhone but the lust for geeky add-ons persists. (Believe me, I know.)

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), too, is betting on the geek factor for its Android mobile OS, which is being developed in concert with Intel (Nasdaq: INTC), Motorola (NYSE: MOT), and more than two dozen others.

What all this means, oddly, is that Apple has a choice between playing the role of rebel (i.e., support and extend a VoIP iPhone) and being a good partner (i.e., put the kibosh on any attempt to unlock iGadgets).

But that's no choice at all, is it? The best option (still) is the one I wrote about in January: Sell Mac addicts unlocked iPhones at a premium, and pay a portion of the added revenue in kickbacks to Ma Bell and other providers that have signed exclusive deals.

Be a rebel and a partner, Apple. This is one of those rare occasions when you really can have it both ways.

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