Typically, a limited choice is a disadvantage because we are not cookie cutter people and what works for me may not work for you. AT&T, Apple’s only US carrier is launching with three phones from different manufacturers, for instance, that are very different.
Let’s talk about the benefit and problem of choice.
The Power of One
Look at cars that became iconic: the Mini, the PT Curser, the first T-Bird, the original Corvette, first Miata, 240Z and even the Model-T.
While you could make some interior and engine choices in some of them generally they initially came in one configuration and, in their day, were some of the most popular products in the automotive segment often commanding huge premiums over list price.
Most of us have never owned any one of these cars but most of us have likely lusted after one or more of them. That is because of the power of one, a single item can be made attractive much more easily than a line because you can focus on the aspirational buyer. You can talk about things like exclusivity, performance, appearance and because there isn’t much variety you don’t get lost in the differences.
The original Mac, the original iPod, and the iPhone all fit within this framework. But this only works to a point because we are all different and that is why there are a line of Macs and a line of iPods today.
The Problem of Choice
So what happens is that successful products that started out as a single offering eventually have to grow into a line. The Mini is a good example of this because it now has a variety of offerings to deal with the needs of its changing customer base so that these customers don’t outgrow the brand and move to other cars. The iPod – as well – spans a line of products from the small shuffle to the large classic to fit the specific needs of its audience.
A line can hold a customer and perhaps get them to buy more than one product from you and Ford grew from one car, the Model-T which you could have in any color you wanted as long as you wanted black, into the breadth of brands and models that exist under the Ford banner today.
But with choice, particularly unmanaged choice, you get a problem. That problem is one of avoiding buyer confusion. In most lines this is handled by distinct differences in the products.
If you need more room for kids, pets, or just for your junk you buy the bigger mini, if you want an iPod to run with that you don’t worry about you buy the shuffle, if you want a big luxury car that will scare small children you buy the Lincoln MKX.
If there is a lot of overlap like there was between Dodge and Plymouth or Oldsmobile and Buick people get confused and pick brand B.
The differences have to be distinct so that buyers can gravitate directly to the phone they want.
Windows Phone 7 Depends on the Carriers
In the US, the carriers pick and choose their phones from a variety of lines from a variety of vendors.
For example, HTC has the deepest line but no one carrier carries all of their phones. And AT&T has chosen one LG phone, one Samsung phone, and one HTC phone. In this instance AT&T has actually done a nice job of picking phones to meet the needs of individual users.
The HTC Surround is focused on those who love music and want to be able to share it; it is a combination phone and mini-boom box, it actually has a slide out Yamaha speaker.
The Samsung Focus is for those that are into gaming and it leads with a larger AMOLED touchscreen which should appeal to those that like gaming. Finally, they have the LG Quantum for those like me who want to use the phone more for work with massive 7 hour talk time and a keyboard.
T-Mobile made a different choice the Dell Venu Pro for the professional and it has a big 4” screen and a unique portrait slide under keyboard.
They add to this the HTC HD7 which is basically the most popular Windows phone, the HD2, with a Windows Phone 7 upgrade. It has a 4.3” screen and a kickstand for those that want the phone for video.
Now step back for a moment, say you don’t like AT&T but want a landscape keyboard no phone for you, how about T-Mobile doesn’t have coverage where you live but you want a phone that is optimized for video?
The carriers have left gaps in their lines and because, unlike Europe, we can’t mix and match phones and carriers the ideal phone carrier mix may not exist for us.
But you still get more choice than you do with an iPhone with both carriers and eventually Sprint and Verizon will have phone in market.
Life is about choice and this actually worked out rather well for me because I use T-Mobile and prefer the Blackberry configuration so the Dell phone they have is fine with me.
I’m not a fan of screen phones and while I currently use one can hardly wait to go back to my preferred configuration. That’s the benefit of choice.
The problem for Apple is their one size fits all strategy doesn’t work in a market as diverse as this one, the problem for both Microsoft and Google (Android) is that for a line to work it needs to be complete and the carriers don’t have the best reputation when it comes to thinking this stuff out.
Choice only trumps if it gives you the right choice and doesn’t just create confusion. With the carriers cherry picking vendors phones confusion could rule allowing Apple’s single model strategy to continue to thrive.
However, and this is likely, as lines become more complete and move to Verizon and Sprint the risk to Apple’s model will likely force them to bring out lines of devices as well. This could mean more choice regardless of the platform you choose.
Let me know what you think of the lines, which one you prefer and why, and if you’ll be getting one.