Could manufacturers benefit from ditching carrier exclusives?

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| Published: November 14, 2012

In my last article, I mentioned that I thought that HTC would have a better chance of upping their sales this quarter if they didn’t use carrier exclusives as they have with their latest creation, the HTC DROID DNA available only on Verizon Wireless. I fear the same fate for the Nokia Lumia 920, a phone which I would like to try someday but would have to switch for AT&T to do so. Some carriers like Apple have lifted their carrier exclusive for the most part, switching from being available to only one carrier to being available to all but one. Although Apple was doing well for themselves, they were able to maintain their position of power by expanding when technology started catching up – and surpassing - them. Could other manufacturers benefit from making the same move?

We can all see how well Samsung has done after they surpassed Apple in sales during the 3rd Quarter with their Galaxy S III. In part it was because the phone was so popular, but no matter how popular a phone gets most people aren’t willing to flip flop carriers simply for one device. Generally, sooner or later a similar model (or at least something comparable) is released for whatever your carrier of choice is. However, Samsung took an extremely popular device and made the exact same device, name and all, available for all four of the major carriers in the U.S., and also many carriers around the world. Clearly, Samsung has done something right in this case, and I wonder if more carriers could benefit by following the same example.

When you look at it from a business model standpoint, however, there’s a reason that carrier exclusives exist. Simply put, it’s part of the competition being created between the carriers. You’re going to have the separate plans, the separate bundles, and the separate benefits that each carrier can offer you, but aside from that you’ve also got phone selection. Everyone’s opinion regarding phone selection is going to be different. For example, in my opinion Sprint and Verizon probably have the best selection of smartphones, and carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile still carry a better selection of messaging phones. But somebody else might have a different opinion than I do and would prefer to use AT&T for their latest and greatest smartphones. Would it just be easier for everyone if they all offered the same devices?

In my opinion, I’m thinking probably not. Not all of the devices, anyway. With as many different kinds of Androids being pushed out by different manufacturers with varying quality, there’s too many to offer all of them to all carriers. I do think that popular phones, or phones predicted to be popular, should be introduced to all carriers so people don’t have to worry about switching. Even if they have to wait to see how sales go for one or two carriers before releasing it for another carrier, I still feel like that could be a good move for any company.

In a way I’m on the fence about carrier exclusives. I can see where it could be good and bad for business. While some people take pride in owning a device exclusive for their carrier (whether it’s bragging rights or being able to own a phone not everybody and their mother already owns) others would agree that if it’s a good thing, it should be shared with as many people as possible. I’m more in favor of eliminating carrier exclusives so it’s one less thing customers, who pay an arm and a leg for service nowadays, have one less thing to worry about when it comes down to attaining the latest and greatest technology.

So how do you feel about carrier exclusives? Do you enjoy being able to carry around a unique device, or do you wish you could share your device with more people? Let me know your thoughts!