I bought my first mobile phone in 2001. It was a Samsung SCH-3500, and it featured a carrier logo printed square in the center of the flip, its red-and-black insignia proclaiming to all and sundry that the device was beholden to one company for its connectivity: Sprint.
No matter that the SCH-3500 was exclusive to Sprint in the U.S. and couldn’t possibly have operated on any other carrier; the logo was there, and as I was unwilling to embark on some acetone-fueled adventures to remove it, there it remained for the duration of my time with the device. And almost every mobile phone I’ve owned or reviewed since then has been similarly emblazoned with the colors of its wireless carrier, with the notable exception of the iPhone.
That Apple leads the list of privileged manufacturers immune to carrier branding is unsurprising: the original iPhone was groundbreaking in many ways, most notably in how much control AT&T was willing to cede to Apple in exchange for the exclusive right to sell it. But that was back in 2007, so long ago that customers were still getting used to seeing “AT&T” instead of “Cingular” on their home screens. In the six years since, very few manufacturers have managed to strike deals as sweet with carriers. Only recently have vendors like Samsung managed to get a carrier-subsidized device on retail shelves without the operator’s name and logo painted on. That is, until now.
The fact that the HTC One has broken the branding barrier isn’t too surprising, actually. The One is a special device -one needs look only as far as either of our reviews to see that- and as mentioned above, other devices like Samsung’s Galaxy Note II have already seen a logo-less release on Sprint. But we were beginning to wonder if any other device besides Apple’s vaunted iPhone would accomplish this feat.
After all, we don’t exactly live in an era of operator restraint. It was just a few months ago that Verizon Wireless demonstrated its complete lack of marketing moderation with the release of its Galaxy Note II variant. The oversized “4G LTE” logo on the back cover was matched in hilarity only by the accompanying graphic on the opposite side, the prominent check mark plastered across the home button.
For its part, HTC is modest about its achievement. When asked to comment, the company said only that it “works closely with each carrier partner to meet their branding requirements while aiming to retain the look and feel of the original (global) SKU as closely as possible. In Sprint’s case, we’re pleased they will be carrying the HTC One with the exact same look and feel as our designers intended it.”
Sprint seems to have had a few specific objectives in mind when considering branding of HTC’s newest device – objectives which complemented the OEM’s own efforts. When asked if the One’s lack of logos was part of a broader reduction in carrier branding, Trevor Van Norman, Sprint’s Director of Product Marketing, said:
The movement has less to do with de-emphasizing our brand and more to do with the flexibility that it provides us in our multi-brand strategy. Increasingly, we are launching similar devices on both our Sprint brand and our no contract brands, Virgin Mobile and Boost. Removing the carrier brand gives us manufacturing and logistical economies in the event that we launch the same device on multiple brands. Also there is a difference between hardware branding and software branding. Sprint is still very focused on software branding which can be dynamic in nature.
In any case, this is a win for manufacturers – and for customers. The devices hit shelves in the form the designers intended, and customers aren’t beaten over the head with branding the carriers are delivering via software anyway. Plus, the carrier is free to throw the same device in a Boost or Virgin box to sell it as a prepaid device down the road, without worrying about painting a new insignia on its back cover. Who knew marketing decisions could be so practical?
Whether it’s due to logistical convenience, manufacturer pressure, or some combination of the two, we hope the trend of “naked” smartphones spreads and accelerates. After years of flying the carriers’ colors from our battery doors, it would be nice to enjoy logo-free devices without resorting to the expense of unlocked hardware – or the perils of nail-polish remover.