Over in Europe, things work a little differently. The carrier model still dominates, but it’s just as easy to pick up unlocked, unbranded versions of Android phones big and small that work on just about any local operator (and often many not-so-local ones.)
Nice overview of the situation in Europe, but to be honest, I haven’t seen any carrier-specific models in The Netherlands in years. In fact, at least on my carrier, you can unlock your phone the moment you get it (a low fee may be charged), and after 12 months, the unlock process is always free (at least for T-Mobile – I’m guessing the same applies to the other two carriers).
You can buy unlocked phones from major stores – both online and offline – everywhere, and nobody bats an eye. In fact, in the first quarter of 2014, almost half of all ‘mobile connections’ were SIM-only – i.e., the mobile phone contract is just the SIM card, without any “free” phone. When you do the maths, clever shopping for a SIM-only contract and an unlocked phone can be hundreds of euros cheaper in the total running time of the contract than going the traditional contract+phone route.
Coincidentally, I’m pretty sure this explains why Android is so popular here. You can get unlocked Android flagship-quality phones or last year’s flagships for a few hundreds euros, whereas unlocked iPhones are two to three times as expensive. When you give consumers an honest breakdown of what a contract+phone really costs, most people will opt to save hundreds of euros.