Two Recent Deaths in the Smartphone world. Long Live the Emperor.

July 23, 2010 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Business, Technology 

Within the last couple of weeks two surprising deaths happened in the Smartphone world: Kin and Nexus One (direct from Google); both of whom I had blogged about before here and  here.  Similar to my predictions on tablets, the world has decided to make me look bad.

I can’t say either action is a real surprise, given the success – or lack thereof – of both products, but it begs the question of what the hell is so unique about Apple that makes them so successful?  Both products were reasonably good and both came out with some marketing strength and high hopes, albeit none had Jobs sticking his turtleneck out for.  In fact one can almost say they are truly cleverphones.  Nexus One sold directly by Google lasted a few months but managed to sell more through the carriers than direct.  Kin, on the other hand, didn’t even last enough to hear comments about it.  Microsoft has decided to protect their channel by pulling it out of the market and allowing HTC, Dell, Samsung, and LG who will release Windows 7 Phone Series (gotta love Microsoft’s marketing) devices this year for the “holidays”.

What I think is really happening is that even strong players like these tend to underestimate the power of the wireless carriers.  They own the customer since people buy phones in order to get a service, not the other way around.  Smartphone OEMs have learned the game and have succumbed to the carriers’ will, quite successfully I might add.  The market has turned into a selection of services where you pick a desirable phone for.  In other words, I know I want AT&T, Verizon, Telus, Vodafone, etc.  for whatever reason and then I select my phone.  Nexus One tried to separate it out unsuccessfully, even given the fact that Google didn’t need to make money on the phone!  People still bought the subsidized phone through the carrier in spite of a long term commitment.

Microsoft on the other hand didn’t try to sell direct, but attempted to bypass OEMs, where carriers buy more devices from.  So it is easier for them to add a Windows 7 Phone from HTC to the portfolio they already buy from them.  Besides, Kin was a succession of project “Pink” in which Microsoft had an agreement with Verizon to supply a device.  This contractual agreement forced Microsoft to release Kin with an OS that was not quite Windows 7 Phone.  In addition to that Verizon changed data plans and made the Kin less than attractive cost wise.  Again, a wireless carrier took control of the market.

One can also blame Palm’s near demise (and HP’s gain) on carriers’ acceptance or choice.

Whatever the reasons are, wireless carriers will continue to dominate and control the market.  Granted, both Google and Microsoft have a potentially great future with their mobile OS without their own branded phones as long as they follow the desire of the carriers they sell through.

The only exception so far is Apple.   AT&T has gained millions upon millions of customers that wanted one and were willing to compromise their carrier selection for the privilege of carrying an iPhone.  When Apple opens up to Verizon we’ll most likely see them run back and abandon AT&T.  Apple will churn the base, Verizon will add users, and AT&T will lose them.  Very few new iPhone users, but Apple will continue to sell them new ones.  Will Jobs be open to have an unsubsidized dual system (AT&T and Verizon) iPhone to sell direct so users can declare him his loyalty?  I can see it if AT&T and Verizon decide to create cheaper iPhone plans since they will not subsidize the phone anymore and create a price war.  We’ll see.

But for the time being iPhone remains the only device requested by name and the carriers maintain control over everything else.  For how long?

Enjoy.

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