5 Reasons Why Nokia's Lumia 920 AT&T Exclusive is Dumb

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Nokia Lumia 920

It has a breakthrough camera, wireless charging and a gorgeous screen. And it’s headed to AT&T--and only AT&T. When I heard the news that the Lumia 920, Nokia’s flagship Windows Phone 8 device, was going to be exclusive to one carrier, I felt compelled to tweet the following. "I don’t think that’s good for Windows Phone adoption."

Of course, I don’t know the terms of this deal — the Verge’s Chris Ziegler tweeted back that AT&T may have refused to carry the phone unless it had the exclusive — but overall it’s a dumb move. Here’s why.

1.  A Lumia 920 exclusive hurts Windows Phone.

According to IDC, Windows Phone devices have a whopping 3.5 percent share, barely up from 2.3 percent a year ago. By locking itself into AT&T, the premier Windows Phone device of the year won’t be made available to Verizon Wireless’ 94 million customers. Or Sprint’s 56 million. Or T-Mobile’s  33.2 million (before the MetroPCS deal). At a time Microsoft desperately needs a hero device to champion its platform, Nokia’s flagship should be made available to as many U.S. shoppers as possible.

2. Nokia and AT&T exclusive didn’t work the first time.

Remember all the fanfare for the original Lumia 900? Even though AT&T gave that device lots of marketing support and said it would be its biggest launch ever, it wasn’t enough to really move the needle in the U.S. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Lumia being used in public. All I see are Galaxy S IIIs and iPhones. AT&T's lame commercials promised you would get the girl because of the phone’s curved edge, but neither that nor an aggressive $99 price could help. What makes Nokia think that things will be different this time around?

3. Carrier exclusives almost never work.

It’s the pretty rare phone that would cause someone to jump carriers. Consider that wireless churn rates, defined as the number of consumers who switch carriers, are extremely low with Verizon reporting  just a .84 percent turnover for Q2 as compared to .97 percent for AT&T, 1.69 percent for Sprint and 2.1 percent for T-Mobile. We don't know how many of this tiny group of users left their carriers because they wanted an exclusive phone from another provider, but I suspect issues like service and pricing were bigger motivators.

In fact, other than the iPhone exclusive for AT&T, there have been very few exclusive devices that have been runaway hits. According to Avi Greengart, research director for consumer devices at Current Analysis, "Motorola’s exclusive with Verizon for the original Droid made that phone a success."

That’s true, but I think that phone was successful mostly because Verizon customers were clamoring for an iPhone alternative. Greengart added that more recently "the exclusive with Verizon has held Motorola back compared to Samsung and Apple, which broadened their own distribution."

4.  Nokia is now outflanked by HTC.

Nokia should be more worried than ever about the HTC Windows Phone 8X and 8S, which Steve Ballmer strangely called "signature phones" for Windows Phone 8. These colorful devices — which bare more than a striking resemblance to the Lumia 920 —will be available for AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.

Never mind the fact that the Lumia’s features are more compelling. Anyone interested in Windows Phone and not on AT&T will likely see the 8X as good enough.

5.  It slows momentum for wireless charging.

One of the coolest features of the Lumia 920 is that it comes with Qi wireless charging capabilities. Not only is Nokia working with third parties to make cool accessories for wire-free juicing, it has partnered with Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to put charging plates on tables in some of their cafes. Virgin Atlantic is also on board, although for now it’s limited to charging stations in the London Heathrow Clubhouse.

How is Nokia going to gather more support for this technology and make one of its chief selling points more compelling when the phone with Qi built in isn’t widely available? The lower-cost Lumia 820 will support wireless charging but will require a separate shell.

Bottom Line

The Lumia 920 has a lot of potential and is easily the most exciting Windows Phone 8 device for the holidays. But by making this deal Nokia is entering the next critical stage of the smartphone wars with one hand tied behind its back. 

Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief on
Add a comment
  • Rudy Says:

    "Insanity: Doing the same exact thing over and over again expecting different results" -Albert Einstein

    So, Nokia went w/ an AT&T exclusive for their shiny new Lumia, and I can tell that it's not going to be the big hit like they hope, simply because it wasn't last time. When the new Lumia gets outsold and dominated by the Galaxy S3 and iPhone 5 we can't blame it on a bad OS, or lack of apps etc. It's because Nokia is too stupid to make their device available to EVERYONE like they should have. The only reason why the Galaxy S3 is dominating the market is because EVERYONE can get it, not just because it's a great phone w/ great hardware.

  • Andre Says:

    Nokias top boys are retarded, you cant do an exclusive to a product ppl are unsure of. Your not apple! Nowhere close! At&t probably showedthem a big number ($) and they jumped on it like idiots. Had this phone came to sprint I would have bought it over the iphone5, simply cause I think it will be a better product. But now I have no option but to get the iphone cause nokia doesnt know what their doing.

  • JimQ Says:

    For what I use, t-mobile's plans are much better and cheaper. While I like the 920, now I have no choice but get the HTC 8x. I just don't understand why Nokia can never get it right, like the old days.

  • TechTaurus Says:

    Apparently Nokia has been having some success with WP 7.x in China with this huge carrier. I'm sure Nokia will be bringing the lower end WP 8 handsets there as well besides the Lumia 920.

  • trgnoobie Says:

    It's a marketing strategy. Unfortunately, though the Lumia 920 has received positive response, I'm sure that Nokia won't want to throw money around for now.

    Also, though it wasn't very successful, AT&T is shown to be a faithful partner to Nokia. As such, they deserve to be the first to push the phones.

    I'm sure that once the phones get off to a good start, the others should get it.

    In other news, the Nokia Lumia 810 has been announced for T-Mobile.

    The 810 comes with 1.2 MP front-facing camera, compared to the 820's VGA camera.

  • DCC Says:

    Paul, Microsoft has NOTHING to do with this. It's an agreement between AT&T and Nokia. ATT said they wouldn't carry it unless they had exclusive rights to it. My understanding is that this is only for the initial launch and that Nokia is still in talks with the other carriers to sell this phone a month or 2 after launch.

    Look at the HTC phones, they are just as good as the Nokia, other than the camera.

  • Baus Says:

    I am so angry that the 920 won't be available for Verizon as well! I will soon become eligible for an upgrade and I was planning on getting the 920 upon its release. Now, I'm just hoping that Verizon really does have an 822 and 922 up its sleeve, for Nokia's sake as well... This may be a long shot, but since grey and white have not been announced to be available for AT&T's release of the 920, perhaps Verizon will get them? Also, Nokia personally hasn't announced anything regarding the situation yet, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

  • Andrew Says:

    That's a lot of crap! This is going to hurt Microsoft and Nokia. We, the people have proven with the iPhone and other AT&T exclusive devices will not sell simply because they are carrier exclusive. We are a people who believe in the power of choice and if there's a way to get a 'choice' in something like which carrier your cellphone can have, we will favor that over something that is 'exclusive'. Now thankfully, there will be other Windows phones on the way which aren't carrier exclusive, but as a message to all cell phone makers (Which sadly will be ignored because of incompetence) if you want the most sales out of a phone, no matter how much $$$ a carrier pays you to make a phone exclusive, pass on that $$$ since in the long run, you'll earn more $$$, PERIOD.

  • salauddin Says:

    can somebody please FIRE stephen Elop, he is killing NOKIA....now they want to sell their Headquarters in Finland...I dont understand how the Investors are so fool to continue with Stephen Elop....I LOVE NOKIA....

  • Paul Says:

    Horrible! I was very much looking forward to this Windows phone on the VZ network b/c EVERYONE has an iphone and, frankly, it gets old. But screw the new Windows phone! The days of "exclusive" carriers are over! That's old-school stupidity. Thanks to Microsoft's gross incompetence they just lost this customer to the iphone.

  • Nero Says:

    Kinda sucks that the 920 is only on ATT, but im not complaining since i do have ATT as my provider. It would benefit Windows Phone greatly if it was released on all providers. At least the 820 is provided by everyone and it is still a pretty awesome device.

  • Joe Says:

    This article is right on the money and Nokia is killing themselves.

  • Essenobi Says:

    Based on comments in other forums, everyone seems a bit disappointed that it's limited to AT&T but it's mainly just Verizon customers who are upset. As a Sprint customer, I'm not upset - I'll switch. I think Verizon customers love the service they get so I can see how they wouldn't want to switch for a phone. Sprint and T-Mobile though, I don't think they care and will make the switch. Then again, T-Mobile customers might not care if they can buy the phone unlocked as it'll save them money in the long run.

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