That halo sure didn't last long.

No sooner had folks started gushing about Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) new $199 entry-level iPhone -- nearly identical to the current generation $399 model, but with added features like faster 3G connectivity and built-in GPS functionality -- than reality began to kick in.

How dare AT&T (NYSE:T) charge $10 a month more for speedier 3G access? Conventional Web access providers like Earthlink (NASDAQ:ELNK) charge more for broadband connectivity than dial-up hookups, but somehow, AT&T became greedy in the eyes of iPhone fans.

Since a 24-month contract is required, buyers may be getting a phone for $200 less up front, but will pay $240 more over the course of two years. "The iPhone price cut is a price hike in disguise," became a popular complaint.

Silly cynics. Don't they understand the value of money? An extra $200 in your pocket today can be worth more than $240, if invested properly over the next two years. That would require after-tax annualized returns of 10% or better, but it's certainly possible.

To be fair, chipping away $10 a month from the original $200 saved -- to cover the extra cost of the new unlimited 3G data plan -- will require an after-tax return closer to 20%. That's certainly a higher hurdle than historical market returns, but what if the bellyachers take the $200 saved and buy shares of Apple instead?

That's not a far-fetched notion. Apple shares have soared 50% over the past year alone. With AT&T subsidizing cheaper iPhones in exchange for Apple forgoing future royalties, the iPhone is likely to grow well beyond its current base of 6 million users. Apple now has the price to compete against both conventional handset makers like Nokia (NYSE:NOK) and smartphone giant Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM).

The halo effect that helped Apple's personal-computing market share rise along with the popularity of its iPods may soon be revisited, if the 3G iPhones prove successful.

Why quibble about an extra $10 a month? In fact, if you think that it won't be much of a barrier to entry, buying Apple -- and AT&T -- may be your best call.

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