Pricing and Availability: Why It’s a Tough Spec for Everyone But Apple

by windowsiso on September 13, 2012

Apple announced the pricing and availability of the new iPhone 5 Wednesday at its media event. Photo: John Bradley/Wired

At each of its media events, Apple consistently delivers new products that have both an official launch date and pricing readily established. It’s seemingly basic stuff: When can consumers buy it, and for how much? Yet almost every major smartphone announcement in the past month has lacked those vital stats. Samsung Galaxy Note II: No pricing, no availability. Motorola Droid Razr HD, Droid Razr Maxx HD: No pricing, no availability. Nokia Lumia 820 and 920: You guessed it — no pricing, no availability.

Delivering that information right when a product announced helps potential customers plan future purchases. It means a product is real, concrete — not some vaporware that gets you all excited then never makes it to store shelves. So what’s the deal?

“In some cases it’s a desire to announce the product before others announce their competing platforms,” said Francis Sideco, an analyst for industry forecaster IHS. This seems like it could be the case with Samsung, Motorola, and Nokia, who announced new handsets in a flurry of events just before Apple’s on Wednesday. “Other times, it could be a business decision that was made for various reasons,” Sideco added. “And in others, it could be that final channel arrangements are still being finalized.”

For smartphones, in particular, carriers are often the reason behind the lack of details at the launch events, according to Reticle Research analyst Ross Rubin. ”In general, carriers prefer to announce the availability, and thus the price, on their networks,” Rubin told Wired. “So it’s not an option for the device brand. For the iPhone, having Apple control the announcement of the device pricing and availability details is but one of the conditions upon which the company insists — as is not having the carrier brand on the device. ”

Steve Jobs struck an exclusive deal with AT&T to sell the original iPhone sight unseen. The deal was unprecedented, and carriers have since wisened up to giving a manufacturer such control over its cellular device.

It’s also worthwhile to note that at this point, Apple’s settled into a pretty predictable pricing scheme for its handsets, and has established agreements with various carrier networks that seem to carry over from one year to the next.

Amazon, which has a similar degree of control over its Kindle and Kindle Fire products, is another notable exception. When the company unveiled a new line of tablets and e-readers on September 6, it was also able to announce pricing, availability, and even a custom AT&T data plan.

And then, of course, there’s always the possibility that, for strategic reasons, manufacturers rush out product announcements before they’ve settled on price structures or release dates. Whether or not that was the case with Nokia’s announcement of the Lumia 920, blog WMPoweruser points out that by announcing it’s new top-of-the-line handset before the iPhone, Nokia has become a constant part of the iPhone 5 conversation, with several commenters calling the Lumia the superior smartphone. It also means Nokia will get extra stage time when the various carriers announce they’ll be carrying it in the coming months.

And even though we may find it extraordinarily irritating, profit-wise, it likely doesn’t penalize a company to announce a handset prior to sharing details such as price and carrier either, according to Rubin. With all this in mind, we’re probably stuck with companies continuing to announce products sans pricing and availability.

If you don’t like that, well, there’s always the iPhone.

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