You're arguing semantics. 99.9% of customers sign contracts to get discounted phones, thus the popular perception that it's tied to the phone.Please remember that the contract is not on the phone, but on the number. Just to get a new line without equipment, they're going to charge at least a year's contract. That might be changing to two years though.
Point is, 1 year contracts are dying in this industry. AT&T is just amoung the first to actually dump them entirely.