Will you switch carriers to get the phone you want?

Taylor Martin
 from  Concord, NC
| October 18, 2012

Samsung generally catches a lot of flack for shadowing a lot of the things Apple does. In the past, Samsung has taken many design cues from the Cupertino-based firm, mimicked many of the iOS interface elements in its customized Android interface, TouchWiz, and even copied Apple's voice controlled assistant. Like it or not, Samsung doesn't show very much discretion when mimicking Apple.

That said, there is at least one way Samsung has taken a page from Apple's playbook that doesn't raise too much cause for alarm: its wireless retail strategy.

The first three iPhones were exclusive to AT&T in the States. If you wanted an iPhone, you had only two options. Buy one through AT&T, or buy one unlocked and pop a T-Mobile SIM card in it for 2G torture. But the Apple iPhone 4 was spread out to at least two more carriers, officially. Although much later than the original iPhone 4 on AT&T, the fourth-generation iPhone eventually made its way to Verizon and Sprint shelves. The iPhone 4S made yet another leap. It launched on AT&T, Sprint and Verizon at the same time. And it eventually made its way down to prepaid carriers. And this time around, Apple broadened its iPhone reach once again. The iPhone 5 initially launched on AT&T, Verizon and Sprint again, but quickly seeded to prepaid and regional carriers.

The magic in this is that carriers have little to no intervention. Each iPhone model is virtually identical, unlike their Android counterparts which often face heavy customizations at the hand of the carrier (locked bootloaders, bloatware and rigorous software update approval processes).

Samsung didn't entirely steal this page from Apple's book. It's been launching its series of phones across as many carriers worldwide as possible since the original Galaxy S launch. But not until this year did it strive to launch the same, untouched phone across multiple carriers. The original Galaxy S hit AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon as the Captivate, Epic 4G, Vibrant and Fascinate, respectively. Each device was built to each carrier's specifics, and each model looked completely different. The Galaxy S II line was similar in that specifications, size and designs varied. However, Samsung refined its strategy with the Galaxy S III, launching virtually the same device across national and regional carriers. The T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and AT&T Galaxy S III models look the same (with the exception of color), feature the same specs and have no silly nicknames. (The only difference internally between the U.S. models are the wireless radios and frequency support.)

And it appears Samsung is applying this same strategy to its other popular brand, Galaxy Note. The Galaxy Note II is just over the horizon and is headed to AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and U.S. Cellular. Specs will remain mostly the same, and each carrier will get virtually the same phone.

This is great from a consumer standpoint. If you are in search of a new iPhone or Samsung phone, carrier is no longer a factor. While our market still differs from the rest of the world, Samsung and Apple are working towards the same mentality: choose your phone, then choose your carrier. Unfortunately, it isn't always that simple. Some manufacturers aren't so quick to make demands with carriers or to give up their old ways.

HTC, for instance, has always had trouble releasing the same – or even very similar – devices across multiple carriers. Its new One series only made it to AT&T and T-Mobile. The One X, One VX and One X+ are AT&T phones, while T-Mobile got only the mid-class One S. Verizon got the DROID Incredible 4G LTE and Sprint received the HTC EVO 4G LTE, both of which were like One devices, but were definitely quite different. If you like the One X and you're on anything but AT&T, you're simply out of luck.

Motorola has clung to its old methods, too, launching DROID exclusives on Verizon for the past three years in pride. I can't discredit the company, though, as the partnership has worked out decently well for Moto. And Nokia has all but botched its re-entry into the U.S. market by limiting is market with exclusive deals with AT&T.

But it makes one wonder how much better Motorola, HTC or even Nokia would be doing financially and in terms of market share if they adopted a more open philosophy and cared to play hardball with carriers. Carrier exclusivities are an old tactic, one that can still work with the right ingredients. But, generally, most people will deal with what their carrier offers … or wait if their provider doesn't carry the specific device they want.

That point raises a question. How willing are you (or your family) to switch carriers to get the phones you want?

I can't imagine there are many who are ready to jump ship at the sight of a new phone, no matter how great the device may be. When I worked in wireless retail, I would see families coming in to eat an ETF, pay the activation fees and subsidized price for three new phones. Some switched to the EVO 4G, iPhone 4 on AT&T and I even had entire families switch to the original DROID. But the number of people switching carriers was always relatively small in comparison.

I've even switched myself a couple times. I opened a Sprint account to get the HTC Hero, which I later swapped for the Palm Pre. And, against my better judgement, I switched to AT&T to snatch a Lumia 900, which I only kept until the One X launched. Other than those exceptions, I haven't done a lot of carrier hopping. And those "switches" weren't necessarily for a new device. More or less, I was looking to subscribe anyway, and it just so happened a device I wanted at the time was coming out, which pushed me over the edge.

Would I switch now? Not a chance. If the Note II were only coming to, say, T-Mobile or Sprint, I would simply wait for an alternative. Or if the Nexus is incompatible with the carriers I use, I will simply pass. Maybe I'm jaded and don't care to own the latest and greatest as much as I used to. But I've definitely learned that making all sorts of changes and constantly swapping devices around to get a new one isn't always worth the trouble. Neither is eating an ETF, or switching service to learn you don't have coverage in a vital area.

So tell me, readers. Have you ever considered switching carriers to get the phone you want? Did you go through with it? Or, like most, do you just deal with the devices that are offered by your current carrier? Should more manufacturers adopt the strategy Samsung and Apple are proving can be wildly successful?