Are carriers more willing to give up or pass on certain phones?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: August 23, 2011

It's hard to say exactly what rate phones are releasing. It's at least a few per month and certainly up from last year. It's increasingly hard to keep up with, especially because they're all so similar. But I'm not complaining, it means business is booming and, lucky for you guys and gals, there are plenty of reviews to be written and recorded.

It also means more phones are inevitably going to flop. Devices are already a hit-or-miss. Each time you sign two years of your life away and swipe your card for a new phone, you're taking a slight gamble. Generally, the only resource buyers have to go by prior to their next phone purchase is the carrier representative's word and ... well, ours. But more recently, sales numbers have been quick to weed out the bad – or less desirable – phones, too. And carriers have shown less patience with such devices.

The recently discontinued Pre 3 is a perfect example. HP's webOS has been the recipient of some rather tough reviews and lackluster sales as of late (if you don't count the fire sales). Although the software is still gorgeous and solid, HP could not improve on Palm's failed efforts. Hardware was a soft spot in the webOS armor. After the quickly forgotten HP Veer and the less-than-stellar TouchPad, several UK wireless operators quickly took a pass on the webOS-powered Pre 3. This was ultimately the straw that broke the camel's back and led to HP's eleventh hour decision to pull out of the hardware business – something Apotheker wanted all along – and the discontinuing of the Pre 3. Now there will be no US launch for the highly-anticipated, third-gen Pre.

Another example would be the cute but cheesy HTC Status (ChaCha), a phone geared towards social fiends – mostly teenagers obsessed with the book of faces. It launched a mere 37 days ago and yesterday, a rumor from TechCrunch revealed that AT&T may be discontinuing the phone – reportedly (and unsurprisingly) due to poor sales. Really AT&T, just 36 days? Apparently, a phone centered around Facebook wasn't a great idea after all. (Imagine that ...) We should keep in mind that it's only a rumor and Ol' Blue responded to it with, "The HTC Status is a great product and our plans for it to be part of our portfolio haven’t changed." Either way, I can't imagine the Status has been flying off the shelves, and a stagnant product after one short month isn't something they should be thrilled over.

Before the smartphone boom, there were a select few devices to choose from when visiting the carrier store for your upgrade. Now there are at least 30 at any given time. Of those, there are the flagships, which are always going to sell like hot cakes, the bargain seekers' mid-range devices, feature/messaging phones and the "others" (like the Status and Kyocera Echo). The others are usually targeting a very limited audience. Even though wireless providers and OEMs think the concept behind these different phones may be novel, they are almost always met with disinterest from the masses. At that point, it is easier for the carrier to admit they were wrong, cut their losses and move on. Something will surely come along to fill its shoes no sooner than they can deem it "discontinued" anyway.

Not only that, but older flagships that have been replaced by a successor is still likely to garner quite a bit of attention at a reduced price. Though it may be outdated in the eyes of a tech evangelist who seeks nothing but the latest and greatest, it is a great deal for someone looking for a solid device at a more wallet-friendly rate. Take the EVO 4G for instance. I'm willing to bet that for $100 and a two-year agreement, Sprint probably moves more EVO 4Gs than the newer but lesser-known Samsung Conquer 4G for the same price.

This surge of handhelds is relatively new and carriers are still adapting to all the changes it has brought. Flagship phones like the Sensation, iPhone and EVO 3D are hogging all of the sales and helping cheaper, less-powerful phones collect more dust. As carriers begin to realize that calling it quits on a device is much easier and cost effective than letting it occupy a valuable slot on their shelves – and that the spot will quickly be filled by something else, hopefully a little more well-received – I have a feeling they will have much less patience with less popular devices.

Products mentioned