OEMs and carrier modifications

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It’s happening again. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, carriers are mucking them up again. They’re sticking their noses where they don’t belong and making OEMs change look, feel, and behavior of their models on phone because the carriers want something unique. Something original.

Recently, we’ve seen the emergence of the HTC One MB HK edition exclusive to Sprint. Just what exactly is exclusive remains to be seen since reports say the difference is negligible. But an even more interesting occurrence of this phenomenon is the recent introduction of the Samsung Galaxy S5 Sport, Sprint’s version of the Galaxy S5 Active.

galaxy-s-4-active-pocketnow-6Active Sports

Now, Samsung is no stranger to introducing several variations of the same phone. Indeed, it’s almost surprising that Samsung hasn’t done this already on its own. But to see the powerhouse that is Samsung capitulating to a 3rd or even 4th place carrier in America is…strange. If of course this is capitulation and not just what I speculated before – Samsung just making a different phone for Sprint because…I don’t know, because it’s Thursday.

But carrier variations of the same brand is nothing new. Lumias throughout the brand’s history have been a virtual number line of models – 520, 521, 525 – like a second grader counting on his toes. The Lumia Icon is the Verizon version of the Lumia 930. Those phones were pretty much identical until Version stepped in. This has been going on for years, for pretty much any phone OEM whose logo is not a fruit.

It’s all about the brand

I get why carriers want to do this. They want their phones to stick out from everyone else’s. Right now if you see an iPhone owner wielding their smartphone of power, you don’t know what carrier they’re using. Of course, there’s a real chance you don’t care about what their carrier is either, but let’s leave that out of the equation for a moment.

Carriers, just like any other product, need brand recognition and visibility. That’s the reason why your phone has an AT&T sticker on the back of it. That’s the reason the logo appears on the splash screen, and that’s the reason why carriers meddle in design when they really have no real right to. I mean, the OEM is the one who put R&D dollars into this device. But the carriers know, without service, their phones don’t go. If you have a little bit of power, it’s your right to wield it.

Pushing agendas

Plus carriers can use this leverage to get other things done too. One of the more famous (or infamous depending on your perspective) moves is AT&T’s bastardization alteration of Qi wireless charging in various Lumia models. In this case, substituting their PowerMat Alliance standard is allowing AT&T to get more butts in those wireless seats, even if no one knows they exist.

So the carriers aren’t completely wrong here in insisting that models be different from everyone else’s. “Notice me damn it,” they say.

And yet…

OEMs put a ton of work and design and dollars into these devices. They show up on announcement day with this crisp looking black slab with blue accents and say, “This is the phone we want to bring you.” Then Verizon steps in and says, “Umm, blue? I don’t think so. That’s AT&T’s color. Make them red. Oh and make the power button bigger. Oh and make the back removable plastic instead of magnesium. Oh and here’s the 500 mb worth of bloatware we want on it.” And the OEM finds itself stuck. In fact, it had considered a bigger power button, but market research showed that…blah blah.

Carriers need to realize that they are a service provider and end it there. Yes, they do sell the phones, but without the phones, no one uses their service either. That door swings both ways. In the rest of the world, carriers seem to have less power due to their contractless nature. But then again, phones are sold at full price and are pretty much the OEM’s problem. Not so here in America, which is undoubtedly why this remains an issue.

Sound off

So what do you think? Are the carriers right that financing these phones gives them the right to dictate how they look and act? Or should the OEMs take back the power and keep their designs the way they intended? If you live in America, would you be willing to pay full price for your next smartphone in order to see this happen? Sound off below and let’s see if we can figure this out.

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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!