OEMs should remove the word “exclusive” from their vocabularies

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Exclusive. “Exclusive” is a fascinating word. From one side of the wall, “exclusive” is a pretty sweet deal. We’re in the in crowd, fellas. Crack open the champagne, serve up the caviar. On the other side of the wall, we’re all clamoring to see what’s so special. On the outside looking in. It’s a party and your invitation got “lost in the mail”.

Exclusive is also a bargaining chip that carriers like to bust out to get themselves a pretty sweet device on their shelves – and no one else’s. Which is where we have found ourselves lately with the latest flagships coming out from Nokia, Motorola and HTC (ok, the First isn’t a flagship, but still). The problem with exclusivity is it only helps the carriers. As a matter of fact how much it actually helps carriers is dubious at best.

Anything is possible

Granted, I’m not an executive. I’ve only ever sat in a boardroom once, and it was one Nokia used for a developer meeting last February. It was swank, let me tell you, but that’s a different conversation. But I don’t sit in a boardroom every day and make extremely important decisions based on what my minions managers tell me.

For all I know, there may be numbers that back this up. Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe people are flocking from Verizon over to AT&T as we speak so they can get an epic God’s-eye camera, or a wooden phone. I doubt it. I have been on AT&T longer than Jesus. And no device – not even the Palm Pre (exclusive to Sprint) or Pre Plus (exclusive to Verizon) could lure me away from big blue. Again, I may not be representative of the entire smartphone-using population of the Earth, I get that. But Sprint’s and Verizon’s exclusivity deals accomplished exactly jack in my world.

But who knows? Maybe droves of users are now looking at AT&T as a viable carrier now that they’re toting the Lumia 1020 or the fully customizable Moto X. Maybe contracts are coming up across the country and folks have a burning desire to get a new phone, and a new carrier and learn all the new dead spots, and re-set up their automatic billing, and figure out where their new support center is.

Makes total sense, right?

I can haz Moto?

I can haz Moto?

Not so much…

I for one am going to go ahead and doubt that. I’m pretty sure that humans are creatures of habit and that humans will have to have fantastical reasons to change their cellular habits. I’m talking about the kinds of reasons that are sung about in ballads and recorded in history books. This is evidenced (albeit anecdotally) by the recent sale of US Cellular’s assets to Sprint in Chicago/St. Louis area.

As it turns out, I knew quite a few US Cellular customers. Like a lot, a lot. And every single one of them at one time or another came to me and asked what Sprint phone they should get. Not I have a deep seeded and not entirely rational disgust with Sprint dating back to their handling of the Palm Pre, so in every case, I asked them, “Why in God’s name would you go to Sprint? Take the opportunity to walk away and get on a real carrier, like Verizon or AT&T.” To a one, it never even occurred to them to move on. Some actually did stay with Sprint, bless their little hearts. But it goes to show, even in the event of a cataclysmic event (in the mobile technology world that is) people will stay with what they know rather than jump ship to another carrier just so they can get lossless zoom.

It’s a circle

Unfortunately, OEMs need carriers to put their product out.  There’s no sense in selling cars if no one is selling gas – and lets hope the oil companies don’t catch on to that. Yikes. It would seem that carriers have the upper hand in this relationship, but it only seems that way.

After all, carriers need phones to deliver their service to. In the previous analogy, what’s the ponint of selling gas if no one owns a car. This is more of a symbiotic relationship than carriers would like to admit. After all, AT&T has to want exclusivity for a 41 megapixel phone. I’m not sure this exclusivity deal is necessarily a deal-breaker in these negotiations. It seems more like something OEMs not named Samsung or Apple are willing to concede to the all powerful wizard.

att musclesNobody likes a bully

But darn it, they should stand up for themselves. If they are making phones good enough for someone to want exclusivity, then they’re making phones good enough for carriers to want in general. I’m not saying there has to be a hard line here – no “Our way or the highway”. But if OEMs simply stop allowing exclusivity to come into the conversation, sooner or later carriers would understand that it’s not longer an option and the gravy train has stopped rolling.

Or maybe this is the only possible conceivable way to put phones in hands. Not being privy to the meetings, I can’t say it definitively. Maybe I’m wrong to put the onus on the OEMs. Maybe the carriers should lighten up and realize that nothing short of another carrier’s bankruptcy will bring new subscribers flocking to their gates. Sometimes, that won’t even do it.

Once again, it’s just a case of the consumers being the ultimate losers here. So if you’re looking for a Moto X with a wooden back plate, or a 41 megapixel epic-cam, you’ll have to be on AT&T. So I put it to you, dear readers. Would an “exclusive” phone ever draw you to a new carrier? Or are the carriers just flexing their muscles because they can?

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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs.Read more about Adam Doud!