Fight the Group Think! Nexus One is Not the First Unlocked Smartphone

arstechnica is one of the most tech-centric sites around. Their in-depth technical drill-downs and reviews are near legendary. But, every now and then even a great site like arstechnica falls into a groupthink mode. Here’s one of those rare occurences for them…

Google’s biggest announcement was not a phone, but a URL

In particular, this sentence highlights one of the group think memes spreading since Google’s Nexus One announcement two days ago…

By offering a lineup of phones that is essentially carrier-independent (with the radio compatibility caveat), Google has separated the two previously interlocked parts of the phone/plan-buying experience—phone selection and carrier selection—and has done so in a way that threatens one of the most important enablers of carrier lock-in.

Um, no, that is not actually true. Most, if not all, makers of GSM phones have provided unlocked phones not tied to a particular mobile carrier. You can buy unlocked phones for use in the U.S. made by Nokia, Sony Ericsson, and even HTC itself which manufactures the Nexus One. If memory serves me correctly, I think Palm introduced one of the Treo models and had it available for purchase either subsidized through a carrier or unlocked at a higher price.

What’s really different here with the Nexus One launch is that Google has the kind of mindshare that can only be matched by Apple and, to a lesser extent, Microsoft. And, while the unlocked Nexus One price is relatively high at $529, it is not astronomical like the $1,100 unlocked price for the HTC HD2 (soon to be available at a presumably lower subsidized price from T-Mobile USA).