Free Case Program Ending…Except It’s Not

Back when Apple (s aapl) announced the free case program for iPhone 4 at a special press event in July 2010, September 30 seemed so far away that I gave little thought to what Cupertino had in store for iPhone 4 owners once the free case program concluded. Now, that day doesn’t seem very far away at all, and Apple’s made clear what’s going to happen.

Basically, the free case program will come to an end, with the company no longer offering a free case to all iPhone 4 customers automatically through the app created specifically for the purpose. Also, the 30-day full refund policy for dissatisfied customers will be ending too, with the refund policy returning to normal. Typically, Apple charges a restocking fee on returned iPhones of 10 percent, which has been waived for the duration of the program.

I got my free case not too long ago in the mail, having requested it the day after I bought the phone on launch day here in Canada (despite Apple Store employees telling me on that day that the program wouldn’t be available in Canada because there “were no issues”). It’s a Speck PixelSkin and though I quite like it, I still use my iPhone naked most of the time.

If you want to take advantage, act now, because anyone who bought their device before September 30 is still eligible. Is it reason enough to buy an iPhone now instead of in a month’s time? Well, it’ll save you around $40 on a case, if that influences your purchase decision. Don’t worry too much if you had your heart set on the official Apple bumper, though.

While the iPhone case program is essentially ending in many ways, it continues on in at least one. If you are an iPhone 4 customer, no matter the purchase date of your device, you’ll still be able to get a free bumper case through AppleCare, if you’re having signal strength issues.

While I’m fairly sure that the company will actually just continue to send free bumpers to whoever requests one, rather than test each unit empirically for signal issues, this shift in policy will probably save Apple heaps of money by limiting the number of customers who’re even aware their iPhone may have a problem or that a free solution is available. Truly, Apple wants to put Antennagate to rest once and for all.

Many speculated that a quietly redesigned iPhone would take the place of the current model, one lacking the signal issues brought on by the infamous “death grip.” That doesn’t appear to be the case. Instead, it looks like the case program was to silence media hype regarding the issue, and then to move on once press attention focused firmly elsewhere.