The Boy Genius has reported that the home activation of the iPhone will return. But it is far from what it used to be. Apple is just trying to cut the time it takes to sign the paper work. You have to fill out the forms online and they go into the Apple or AT&T store to activate the phone. They are not going to allow any phones out of the store without being activated.
I have a real personal agenda here against Apple and the mobile carriers, being that I believe that all devices should be able to bought unlocked and without a contract. They can mark up the price but sell the phones unlocked.