Jessica Dolcourt of CNET News wrote an article yesterday (Aug. 15) examining the process by which a new phone reaches the U.S. market.
"More than just processors and plastic, most cell phones in the U.S. owe their existence to the behind-the-scenes collaboration, and sometimes conflict, of the carriers and manufacturers that create a concept and design long before a smartphone or flip phone emerges from the factory," she writes.
The process takes time. A phone concept could be pitched to a carrier in February, design approved in May, tested in June, but not get launched until September. (See the above photo, or view the original article, for more details.)
Given that there are often a dozen new phones introduced a month, I was surprised that each phone goes through such a seemingly lengthy process -- from the initial design to mass market. For wireless retailers, it's particularly interesting to see the rigorous selection process a phone undergoes before it can hit store shelves.
While I knew that OEMs often had dealings with carriers, I didn't realize how much influence carriers have on the initial phone design. If anything, I thought that the OEMs were giving the carriers the opportunity to sell their phones, but it’s quite the opposite. The carriers actually get pitched a stockpile of prototype designs from which they choose just one to brand. I was also surprised at how detailed carriers' preferences can be: down to picking the button sizes or the color of the phone.
What did not surprise me is that the larger carriers such as AT&T and Verizon often get first pick/right of first refusal on which manufacturers and phone models to market.
The main take away from this article is: The product that hits the market may not be work of the OEM's design team, but rather the product of negotiations between many stakeholders. This article gives new insight into the balance of power between the carriers and the OEMs, with the former having the strongest influence over what the final cellphone will look like.
The carriers' strong influence also reaffirms my “assumption” that the largest carriers -- AT&T and Verizon in the U.S., and Rogers in Canada -- seem to always offer the coolest, most desirable phones, while the smaller carriers get the less popular models.