As promised, Apple today began offering a USB installer for Mac OS X 10.7 Lion in its online store for a price of $69, a $40 premium over the OS's price in the Mac App Store. This price hike is not just for the price of the drive and its packaging, which aside from the Lion branding is identical to the recovery media that began shipping with MacBook Airs after the late 2010 refresh, but as a way to push customers toward the Mac App Store for as much of their software as possible.
Apple notes that customers installing Lion from the USB drive cannot use the Lion Recovery partition to reinstall OS X in the future. The installer likely creates the Recovery partition (as does an OS X USB or DVD created from the App Store installer, a process we detailed in our review of Lion), but your computer's serial number won't be associated with a valid Lion purchase through the Mac App Store, rendering your Mac unable to re-download Lion via the recovery partition.
While this Lion USB drive doesn't make sense for most consumers with just a few Macs and a sufficiently fast Internet connection, it is a nice option for system administrators, users with DSL or dial-up connections, and people lacking the Mac App Store who need to upgrade directly from Tiger or Leopard to Lion. Given the company's push to digital downloads and its notorious stubbornness, Apple probably thinks we should be grateful to have the option at all.