Microsoft has finally unveiled the Windows Phone 7 platform--including a diverse selection of ten different Windows Phone 7 smartphones right out of the gate. Despite Microsoft's struggles getting into gear in the mobile game, Windows Phone 7 looks awesome. Unfortunately, Windows Phone 7 is also a prime example of why device exclusivity is bad for all parties and handicaps the potential of the platform.
Having ten different form factors seems to give prospective Windows Phone 7 buyers plenty of choice, but thanks to exclusive arrangements with wireless carriers, the reality is that the options are much more limited. As an AT&T customer, my Windows Phone 7 options are limited to only three of those ten, and none of those three is the smartphone I would actually choose...if I actually had a choice.
Taken as a whole, the collection of ten Windows Phone 7 smartphones provides prospective customers with a diverse array of options. With five devices from HTC (7 Surround, HD7, 7 Trophy, 7 Mozart, and 7 Pro), two from LG (Optimus and Quantum), two from Samsung (Omnia 7 and Focus), and one from Dell (Venue Pro) there is a size and form factor for everyone.
Four of those ten will only be available in Europe, or other international markets, so we can already narrow the field from ten to six for prospective Windows Phone 7 shoppers in the United States. No worries. Three of those six are from HTC and HTC has always developed the best smartphones for Windows Mobile. Prior to my iPhone 3G--now my iPhone 4--my three previous smartphones were all HTC Windows Mobile devices.
The problem is carrier exclusivity for specific devices. The reality is that because of the arrangements between the smartphone manufacturers and the various wireless providers, AT&T only has three Windows Phone 7 smartphones to choose from, T-Mobile has two, and Sprint will eventually have one. Verizon is apparently not invited to the Windows Phone 7 party--or at least not yet.
If I could really choose from all six of the Windows Phone 7 smartphone models available in the United States, I would get the HTC HD7, followed by the HTC 7 Pro, and probably the Dell Venue Pro as a third alternative. Guess what? It turns out that although AT&T has the most Windows Phone 7 options with three out of six, it just so happens they are the exact opposite of these three.
My HTC option with AT&T is the 7 Surround--with a slideout speaker and digital Dolby surround sound. Seriously? So, as an AT&T customer I can choose from three Windows Phone 7 devices out of the original ten, but they are the three that are at the bottom of my list--if I actually had a choice.
Both of the T-Mobile options are on my top three list, but I have a contractual commitment with AT&T and a family plan that impacts four other smartphone contracts in my home. I can't simply jump ship to T-Mobile on a whim because it happens to have the smartphone du jour I am interested in. Likewise, businesses are not going to fold up their tent and make the arduous trek to a new wireless provider just for a specific device.
Smartphone exclusivity is a failure as a marketing ploy, and ultimately hurts the wireless provider and the customers. The marginal gain that a wireless carrier might get from being the only provider of a specific smartphone model can only really work with brand new customers that don't already have a contractual allegiance to a given provider.
Wireless carriers should be able to compete head to head without relying on smartphone exclusivity blackmail, and smartphone customers should have the freedom to choose from all available devices to find that one that suits them best. Businesses and consumers should also have the option to use the smartphone they choose with the wireless provider that best meets their needs.
I don't want to settle for a Windows Phone 7 smartphone I don't really want, and I am not switching wireless providers to get the one I do want, so AT&T, T-Mobile, Microsoft, and I all lose out. This current model is a lose-lose proposition.