The main difference is that it doesn't require any carrier commitment. Ordering online requires entering your account credentials if ordering a carrier model. SIM free is purely purchasing the device only. In terms of packaging, the SIM-free model includes a SIM ejector tool. Aside from that, they are fundamentally the same exact phone.
Yeah and OF COURSE there's no store reserve / pickup option
Jesus Christ Apple can you **** this release up any further for people who simply want to purchase the CDMA version without the IUP program and aren't Verizon postpaid customers?
I mean I know demand is off the charts and they can simply afford to say "screw non-postpaid customers... either get the less capable GSM only T-mobile version or keep standing in line like a moron!" but it seems like a real crappy way for a company to treat customers who simply want to reserve a contract free CDMA version for store pickup and don't want to waste time going to the store over and over and over again waiting in line just to be told each time they don't have that one in stock and to come back another day.
Some people want / need the more valuable CDMA capable version but don't have a Verizon / Sprint postpaid account to reserve once for in store pickup which the SIM free version was supposed to have the option for (except Apple dropped the ball yet again).
Also the carrier versions of the past models, even if technically 'unlocked', aren't always on each carriers whitelist of phones they will activate like the SIM-free version is.