Apple Store retail employees had reported a new "Home" option appearing on their EasyPay systems when making an iPhone 3G sale. Many hoped this would signal Apple's return to the in-home activation system.
In reality the new "Home" option will allow customers to pre-activate at home by entering in their cellular details or billing information for new subscribers. You would then still need to go into the Apple Store and pickup your "unbricked" iPhone.
In regards to a model refresh, it is likely this would come after the holiday season. The new shipments Apple is preparing are probably replacement USB power adapters.