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Exclusive smartphone deals hurt brand loyalty

Dear phone manufacturers, phone carrier exclusives are demoralizing to your brand loyalty. Carrier exclusives have long been the norm in the smartphone markets, but with smartphones becoming something that even the average consumer has and wants, they're increasingly becoming more of a pain to get the one you really want. Exclusives sometimes can be good for manufacturers, but the goal of any manufacturer is to put their product in as many consumer hands as possible, and exclusives combat this end game objective.

Nokia Lumia 1520 Phone Exclusive with AT&T
www.nokia.com

Exclusives for different carriers increase device maker's manufacturing load. For instance, the Lumia’s 920, 925, and 928 are rather similar devices, but differences in screens, body, camera, etc. AT&T has the polycarbonate Lumia 920, while T-Mobile got the Lumia metal-and-polycarbonate 925 with an improved camera. Verizon got another alternative in the Lumia 928, with a squared-off polycarbonate body, improved camera, and xenon flash. While it’s great that Nokia can put our multiple devices with different carriers, the real observation is clear that there’s still a huge portion of consumers who will never get a hands-on view of their full line of phones.

That’s why exclusives are really horrible for a majority of consumers. What if you want the Lumia 925 with its thinner body and xenon flash, but you're on Tmobile? Too bad, you can't have it. Nokia has a long history with AT&T, but AT&T hasn't been good to Nokia who has consistently struggled in recent years with their phones. Carrier exclusives limit customer choice, forcing us to choose a carrier by not just the quality and price of their service, but by their ability to manipulate manufacturers.

What do the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, LG G2, Moto X, HTC 8X and Apple iPhone have that Nokia's gorgeous Lumia 1020 and 1520 don't? They aren't shackled to AT&T. Finally Nokia has an awesome phone in the Lumia 1020 and 1520, and a majority of consumers will never know how awesome it is because your carrier is Tmobile or Verizon. Both phones could change the brand resonance that consumers have about Nokia, and they have chosen to limit its true potential by making it exclusive only to AT&T customers.

When a new and hot phone lands on a different carrier than yours, and you’re still under contract, what do you do? When you’re overall satisfied with your service plan, you do nothing, right? Some manufacturers that have been able to get around the exclusives deal. It all has to do with market power. As soon as one smartphone maker sells enough phones and amasses enough consumer recognition, they can push back against carrier control and demand what they want. When you're not in a powerful position, you're at the mercy of the carrier, like LG and Nokia.

Ultimately, this all comes down to influence, and Nokia's seems to still be near zero. Can Microsoft help? Maybe, but between all the major changes taking place in their executive structure, and focus on XBOX One success, I'm not sure if it is its main focus. However, the release of Cortana was announced last week. It will be Microsoft's answer to Apple's Siri. Cortana will serve as a digital personal assistant which gives us a glimpse into the future of how our smartphones and tablet computers will work for us: anticipating -- not just responding to -- our requests and our needs. If Windows Phone is going to succeed, every American on every carrier needs to be able to get their hands on the best Windows Phone possible.