Death to the carrier exclusive

Carrier Exclusives

Hear ye, hear ye, citizens of the smartphone world: The entities that lead our land are stuck in some archaic ways -- and their foolishness is causing us all to suffer.

I speak of the carrier exclusive -- a futile and dated concept that some carriers insist on clinging to at the expense of pretty much everyone involved.

The practice harkens back to the days of the original Motorola Droid -- and the early iPhones, too -- when the smartphone market had but a few marquee devices and people were willing to change networks for the chance to use one.

Now, with the big-name players available almost everywhere, not many users are hopping networks just to get a specific device. The Galaxy S4 is sold by every major U.S. carrier; even HTC managed to get its HTC One on the shelves of all but one network (bravo, Verizon; you've disappointed your customers yet again). In our modern smartphone economy, all a carrier exclusive does is limit the number of people who will use a device -- and consequently limit the device's potential.

The latest smartphone to fall victim to the trap is the LG Optimus G Pro, an eye-catching new Android phone announced this week and coming exclusively to AT&T. So, yup -- another standout device destined for irrelevancy.

It's not the phone's fault; we're just reaching a point where carriers are merely a mechanism by which we get our connections. They're like the utility companies of our mobile lives. And much as they hate it, claiming an "exclusive" on some new phone isn't going to change that. (Offering better service and more reasonable rates might, but that's another story.)

We've seen far too many standout smartphones suffer from the exclusive treatment. Phones like last year's Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD and HTC One X were among the finest devices offered in 2012, but limited to a single carrier each, they stood no chance of gaining meaningful momentum. Carrier exclusivity may get manufacturers a promise of in-store promotion, but the sad truth is that it doesn't matter. A carrier exclusive is a smartphone death sentence. Samsung didn't get where it is today by offering its Galaxy S phones in a single spot.

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I don't pretend to know what goes on behind closed doors during carrier negotiations (I assume it's mainly goat sacrificing and hysterical cackling, but that's just a hunch). What I do know is that in practice, carrier exclusivity is rarely good for manufacturers -- and it sure as hell isn't good for consumers.

It's time for this silliness to stop.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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