First Discussion for CES 2010 – Locked OR Unlocked

With Google throwing out the announcement about its new Nexus One phone handset, the question of handset management is being tossed around everywhere at CES at the moment. And after having a terrible experience with a locked handset I have just added to my ‘ToDo List’, get new unlocked phone.

Currently, manufacturers and some phone companies lock features of their handsets to ensure that the customer uses the phone the way it was intended. This ensures that the business model that the phone companies structure that allows us to buy a subsidised handset, leads them to earn their profit over the course of the contract. A good example, is the Skype app for the iPhone. You can’t use the voice chat feature unless you are in a wifi hotspot. This is to ensure the phone company gets their revenue for calls. But locking can go too far and can stop a customer from using the phone at all. Case in point? Me and the nightmare played out yesterday that saw me spend four hours and $150 trying to get the iPhone working on the AT&T prepaid network so I could make and receive calls, SMS and have access to data for email and internet surfing.

I’m not picking on iPhone, but they are the best example of how a phone experience can go terribly wrong when you try and divert from the way you are told you to use the phone. My Australian phone service is competitively priced, except when I go overseas. I tried a prepaid SIM card, as a journalist I know used the AT&T prepaid SIM card successfully; sadly it did not work for me. So, I tried to get the phone unlocked. In doing so I needed to go to another store and they needed to wipe the phone to do this. So, my phone is wiped but I can use my phone normally right? Wrong. I can receive calls, but AT&T do not allow data downloads on the prepaid SIM card to the iPhone. So no email and internet surfing.

It is becoming increasingly clear from hearing the screams of other iPhone users that handset locking is getting more and more unpopular. In my case it is unworkable, so that means looking for another phone where this won’t happen.

I think it is important to note that I believe it is the right of the manufacturer to lock/unlock its phone. But it is also the right of the consumer to choose, and with Google now coming out with smart phone far less restricted than other models, this will place pressure on the other manufacturers to also unlock their phones too.