Exclusive deals are hurting, not helping, the smartphone market

Some things in life should be exclusive, like the people who are allowed to drive my car or eventually date my daughter. Other things, however, should be open to the general public. Parks, roads, drinking fountains, and the front seats of busses come to mind.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way things work over here in the States, at least not when we’re talking about cellular phones. Carrier exclusives are still very much a thing — although they should not be, not any more anyway.

“Exclusives” are just like they sound, “restricted or limited to the person, group, or area concerned”. When it comes to smartphones and tablets, there are many types of exclusivity. Both hardware and software come to mind.


mlbatbatVarious content providers, rather than offering their apps and content through app stores open to anyone, instead contract with carriers to pre-load their apps on phones and tablets. Content providers like Major League Baseball and the National Football League have signed deals with T-Mobile and Verizon  (and others in the past), some of which provide that apps and content are offered only to their partners. This leads to a few issues and concerns.

First, these pre-loaded apps (often referred to as “bloatware”) are usually pre-installed on devices in such a manner that they cannot be uninstalled. This takes up valuable space on your device, and without rooting, you’re usually not able to uninstall them.

Second, if you bring your own device to a partner-network, you might not be able to get the exclusive app or content because you didn’t buy the device with it pre-loaded directly from your carrier.

Third, there are plenty of users out there that would love to be able to access exclusive content, but are unable to do so because they’re unable or unwilling to switch carriers.


HTC One M8 hardwareOn the other side of the coin is hardware exclusivity.

In certain cases, exclusive hardware is simply the nature of the industry. Not too long ago, if you didn’t get a phone specific for your carrier, there was a high probability that you’d be sacrificing something, usually data speeds. In other cases, the phone itself wouldn’t work at all between carriers due to CDMA versus TDMA technologies, and various frequencies used by carriers.

We’re moving away from that today. The Nexus 5, for example, will work on virtually any GSM carrier in the world, and even on Sprint’s network — though Verizon is out of the picture. SoCs are getting more robust and include radios for more frequencies than ever before. It’s gotten to the point where the phone itself is becoming the item that people want, rather than the carrier. As new phones come out, it’s simply expected that they’ll be available on your carrier. Whether that’s the HTC One M8, Samsung Galaxy S5, iPhone 5S, or whatever the latest and greatest flagship phone is.

Exclusive Deals Hurt

Alas, we still live in a world where carriers, OEMs, and content providers conspire to keep content and devices from being universally available.  Some marketing team somewhere is still convinced that doing so will give their company a competitive edge, and will somehow convince customers to leave their current carrier and sign up with them just to get early access to a new phone, or to be able to watch the latest sporting event on their tablet.

Instead, it frustrates customers. They see these deals, not as reasons to switch, but reasons to stay away from a certain carrier. It helps alternate content providers gain a foothold in the market that they otherwise would not have had. It sours the opinion of customers against a given brand or network.

Ultimately, all the benefits that carriers, OEMs, and content providers thought they were getting out of exclusive deals usually wind up 180-degrees from what they expected. Exclusive deals are hurting, not helping, the smartphone market.

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy". By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video. Read more about Joe Levi here.