Editorial: Will carrier exclusive devices and Lumia-only apps be detrimental to the Windows Phone platform?

I have always believed that Windows Phone users are open-minded people who like to “buck the trend” as per se. Let’s be honest here, most of us endured with Windows Phone 7 not because it was better than Android or iOS, but because we liked being different and also haboured hopes of that Microsoft will “get it right” in the long run and our patience will be rewarded eventually. Yes, Windows Phone 8 looks promising and the device line-up suggests that we might finally be at par with the iOS and Android platforms in terms of OS features and indeed hardware.

Unfortunately, there is a lingering issue that has been brewing on the horizon lately. Yes, the “E” word – “Exclusive” to those that have only emerged from under a rock. I’m pretty sure we are all well versed about how the coveted Nokia Lumia 920 is exclusive in the US on AT&T, in Canada on Rogers, in Australia on Telstra, in the UK on Everything Everywhere and in China on China Mobile. Lord have mercy if the are still more exclusives to be announced! Also there is the issue of Lumia-exclusive apps. While I dont begrudge Nokia for putting in the hard graft in making wonderful apps like Nokia Maps, Nokia Drive, City Lens, Nokia Music, Nokia Transit, Nokia Xpress, etc., I find the practice of coercing third party developers into making their applications exclusive to the Nokia Collection a bit disturbing.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the fact that Nokia probably rescued Windows Phone from death’s door and appreciate that they need to differentiate from Samsung and HTC in order to to give prospective buyers a reason to pick up a Nokia Windows Phone device, but to what extent and to whose expense?

Carrier Exclusive Lumia Devices

It looks like Nokia is adopting a strategy that Apple used when they first brought out the iPhone; that of selling the Lumia 920 to the highest bidder. Look, I’m no marketing or strategy guru but I suspect the strategy is flawed will not work. Apple realised it and started negotiating with other carriers. You would think Nokia would have learnt from the Lumia 900 debacle. The Lumia 900 didn’t benefit from being stuck on AT&T, so why does Nokia think things are going to be different this time around?

For the first time in a while, Nokia has a device that is getting rev reviews, even Nokia/Windows Phone trolls like Engadget and CNet seem to think the Lumia 920 is the real deal. Surely it makes sense to spread the device to as many carriers as possible doesn’t it? Yes, other carriers can it pick after six months but wouldn’t that be a bit too late? Ever heard of “striking the iron while it’s still hot?” That means other carriers will have to wait until May next year, then, C.E.S would have been and gone, Android OEMs would have show-cased their new devices and I’m pretty sure the Samsung Galaxy SIV will be out then, while the Lumia 920 will be last year’s device with last year’s specs.

In America, it would mean that at least 2 out of every 3 prospective buyers will not have the Lumia 920 as an option when upgrading or buying a smartphone. In the UK, 4 out 6 will have to change carriers if they wanted the Lumia 920 as Vodafone, O2, Three and Virgin will have to wait for 6 months if the Everything Everywhere exclusive deal is the same the AT&T one. The same can be said for Australia, China and Canada. I’m sure Nokia people are intelligent folk that understand the smartphone game more that I do, but I suspect this strategy is weak and will most likely bring more pain than gain to the already struggling Finnish giant.

Lumia Exclusive Applications
No doubt the arrival of Nokia to the Windows Phone platform played a part in boosting numbers in the Windows Phone Marketplace to what is now 100,000+. The fact that Nokia Drive will now be available to all Windows Phones also serves a reminder to the hard work the OEM is doing for the ecosystem. In a year, Nokia has done more for Windows Phone than Samsung, HTC, LG, Dell, ZTE and Fujitsu put together. They have sold more devices, garnered developer interest and developed more applications themselves.

They have also invested their resources by sending out their developers to help third party devs in bringing their applications to Windows Phone. A few months ago at CTIA, Nokia announced deals with a range of companies, including Box, Groupon, EA, ESPN, Rovio, etc. to add their apps exclusively to the Lumia Collection. They included the PGA Tour app (12 month exclusive) and a variety of ESPN apps (exclusive to May 2013). Additionally, there was the Groupon app (exclusive for six months); the Tripdots travel app (three month exclusive); and the AOL Entertainment Hub (six month exclusive). We are still waiting to see if these apps make it to the generic Marketplace when the exclusive deals expire.

Recently, the Viber developers announced that their Windows Phone application was going to be updated, bringing HD VOIP calls. The update came as promised but there was a sting in the tail; the updated app was only available to Lumia devices! We reached out to the developers for an explanation and were told that there were no current plans to bring the application to all Windows Phones. We were also informed that the directions to make the app exclusive to Lumia devices came from Microsoft and not Nokia. Confused? I certainly am!

While I have no issues with Nokia helping to bring applications to Windows Phone and reaping the rewards for it, I worry that the practise might create a little Nokia ecosystem within the Windows Phone ecosystem. I also worry that Nokia is creating a little iNokia prison, whereby you are either in or out; when you are in, you are locked in. I am certain that this is the exact reason most Windows Phone users hate iOS.

The Bottom Line
While many will call me bitter and stupid, or whatever comes to mind, I belive the reasons stated above are valid. I also believe that for our chosen platform to remain progressive, we need to think objectively at times and question some decisions. Like many, I thought the Lumia 920 was going to be my next device but the fact that it won’t be available through my carrier and also given that I’m not willing to drop the years of bonuses I’ve built up with current my carrier, it has got me looking at alternatives. The Samsung ATIV S now looks like an interesting prospect with expandable memory and a removable battery, that’s despite my almighty rant about how I will not be buying another Samsung Windows Phone. Unfortunately, should I choose to go with a none-Lumia device, I risk losing out on good apps. The Lumia 820 isn’t an option because I want a big display with HD resolution.

Had Nokia made the Lumia 920 available to most carriers, current users and prospective buyers wouldn’t have this predicament. It would allow choice and ensure success of the Lumia 920. I also believe that if Nokia made their applications available to all Windows Phone users it wouldn’t hurt them an inch. Their first class support for devices and outstanding designs make them stand head and shoulders above Samsung and HTC.

This guest post was written by Darlington Moyo of WPSuperfanboy.com. Visit us for news and views on Windows Phone.

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