A leaked photo reportedly from Apple's systems indicates that the tech giant may have finally made its price-matching policy a little bit clearer to its retail store employees.

The photo instructs Apple Store workers that prices from various retailers, including Best Buy, Radio Shack, Target, and Sprint, can be matched in-store, with the iPhone 4 and all three iPhone 4S models dropping by as much as $49.01.

Previously, Apple store employees were not officially permitted to match competitors' price or offer iPhone discounts, though the option was technically available to be used at their discretion.

Now it seems the policy has been spelled out, though sources claim the discounts are available only to customers who specifically ask for price-matching, and can cite specific competitors' prices for reference.

Thanks, Sprint

Apple's apparent new iPhone price-matching policy arrives on the heels of a particularly hefty iPhone price cut from Sprint.

Sprint began offering the iPhone 4S at $86 off its former price by lowering the retail cost by $50 and waiving a $36 activation fee earlier this week.

If the leaked photo is accurate and the reports are correct, then Apple's new iPhone price-matching policy is no doubt in response to Sprint's generous iPhone 4S discount.

Just don't expect Apple to ever admit that.

The cost of doing business

Purchasing an iPhone on its home turf at an Apple Store has become increasingly unwise as the smartphone has become available from more and more retailers and carriers.

But giving Apple Stores the option to match those competitors' prices may help Apple stay at the top of its own food chain.

If customers can cite the correct retailers, the iPhone 4 will drop to as low as $49.99, while the 16GB, 32GB and 64GB iPhone 4S will bottom out at $149.99, $249.99 and $349.99 respectively.

As CNET points out, former Apple retail chief Ron Johnson said in July in regards to competitors' prices, "As long as someone buys an Apple product, Apple's prospering. Maybe not at the same rate, but in the long run, you'll earn better profits."

Maybe so, but Apple must earn even better profits selling the phones themselves, even if they have to slash prices.

Via MacRumors, CNET, BGR