Manufacturers have too much variety and not enough carrier options

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| July 26, 2013

The selection of smartphones we have to choose from today is staggering. We have our four major platforms: iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone. Among those platforms we have hundreds of smartphones to choose from all around the world from manufacturers like Apple, Google, LG, HTC, Samsung, Nokia, BlackBerry... the list goes on and on. The amount of phones that we have to choose from is virtually limitless as new phones come out all the time, but one of the biggest issues that I have with this is that some manufacturers are following a trend of pumping out different varieties of the same device over a very short period of time.

It wasn't too long ago that I wrote an article asking Samsung why they were releasing so many phones, specifically using the same name, aside from the obvious standpoint that they believe that it will bring them more money. Although the successor to the extremely successful Galaxy S III, the Galaxy S4, has also been a huge hit that continues to be discussed as the months pass by, when do we ever really hear about the Galaxy S4's incarnations? You have the Galaxy S4 Mini, Galaxy S4 Active and the Galaxy S4 Zoom. Other than the initial hype, articles revolving around these devices are few and far in between. Why? In my opinion, this happens for two reasons: Too many options, and likely to follow carrier exclusives. Although the Galaxy S4 Mini and the Galaxy S4 Zoom haven't announced which carriers they will be available for yet, I assume that it will follow in the footsteps of the Galaxy S4 Active and only be available to one, possibly two carriers at most.

However, Samsung isn't the only carrier that releases various iterations of the same device. You also have the Nokia Lumia line, which have less drastic changes from model to model, but when it comes to its main feature, the camera, they seem to always one up the previous one for each carrier. It started off with the Lumia 920 with an 8.7-megapixel camera that implemented PureView technology and a Carl Zeiss lens. For a while, it was arguably the best camera you could find on a phone in the market, but it was only available on AT&T. Six months later you get the Verizon release of the new Nokia Lumia line, the 928, which didn't really add much other than a Xenon flash in place of the dual LED on the back of the original 920 and an OLED display with Gorilla Glass 2. Even the Nokia Lumia 925 for T-Mobile isn't that different from its two older brothers, but it does feature an 8.7-megapixel OIS f/2.0 6-element lens as oppose the 5-element lens that the earlier two offered. Then of course, rolling back around to AT&T you have the new Nokia Lumia 1020, which shares most of the same specs as the Nokia Lumia 920 except for the fact that it has a 41-megapixel camera on the back. That is 4 different devices all released within 7 months of each other, and yet each one has a different carrier that it belongs to.

I'm stuck on what I think about this. On the one hand, options are a good thing. People like having options because sometimes a phone that works out for me doesn't necessarily work out for you. There are people in the world that could benefit from a Galaxy S4 Zoom or a Nokia Lumia 1020, while for others a good camera isn't necessarily an important feature. But why aren't we releasing them on more carriers? Why do they seem to be stuck on carrier exclusives still? The Galaxy S III and the Galaxy S4 didn't get as successful as they did by choosing to be with one carrier. The same version was released on all four. What about the HTC One? Although Verizon customers still have yet to see the device, they still know it's going to be the same HTC One that every other carrier has (except for perhaps having a different color?) The iPhone, as far as I can recall, is really the only device that had success running with one carrier. Even then, they only had one model come out each year. It was simple, it was routine, and it worked.

When a manufacturer releases so many versions of one line of phones that quickly, and especially only for specific carriers, I feel like they're just shooting themselves in the foot. If you want a Galaxy S4 Active, you're going to have to go into AT&T. If you don't have AT&T, don't want AT&T, or can't get AT&T reception in your home, well, sorry about it. If you want a Nokia Lumia 928 you better make plans to swich to Verizon. It just seems to me that this type of tactic confuses and frustrates people for the most part. The most successful phone models lately have been the same exact model released across all four networks. Lately there has just been too much variation and not enough options given to them.

Readers, what are your thoughts on phone variations and carrier ability? Do you think that these variations could have done better if they released the same model across multiple platforms? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below!

Image via Engadget