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A signature’s call

I’ve been thinking lately about the notion of “signature phones.” Lots of wireless operators have exclusives but it seems that some grow to be especially associated with that operator, ideally in an iconic way, even transcending specific models to extend to generations of products. They don’t have to be smartphones although they’ve tended to be. Here’s how I would assign them today:

  • AT&T: iPhone (duh). This was probably ingrained from the introductory Macworld keynote.
  • Verizon Wireless: Hasn’t historically had one, but the enV is gaining momentum as its Sidekick. Voyager definitely has potential here and VZW is promoting it.
  • Sprint: While Treo was probably once a signature phone for Sprint, Touch may be the closest today although it may not be compelling enough.
  • T-Mobile: Sidekick, although Shadow may be up and coming as a rival.
  • Helio: Ocean

Overall, signature phones have been good for operators, but too much focus on them can distract from other benefits such as network coverage (which helps explain why Verizon Wireless has never let one emerge). There are also risks involved if the phone moves to other carriers (like Treo) or if another signature phone tries to take the industry in another direction (as the iPhone has done to the Sidekick). It’s interesting to note that none of these devices have been made by the top three global handset companies. Also, the concept may expire as U.S. operators move to more open access.