Thunder Lifetime Exclusive: The New Walled Garden?

Rumor is that RIM’s new BlackBerry Thunder will be a lifetime exclusive to Verizon and Vodaphone. This ups the ante from iPhone’s five year exclusive with AT&T in the US, though Apple has inked non-exclusive or co-exclusive deals in many other countries recently.

I’d thought the “walled garden” approach to data access on mobile phones was slowly slipping away as more phones support browsing the open Internet, including downloading media that can be used as ringtones or wallpaper.

(Just two years ago a carrier asked us to shut down a program giving away a free promotional wallpapers. They considered it “revenue leakage” since we weren’t selling it and giving them a cut. Now they charge the brand to deliver promotion content free to the user.)

The iPhone arguably replaced one walled garden with three:

  1. Works only with AT&T
  2. Preventing installation of applications until a future release
  3. Requiring that ringtones be purchased from iTunes

Being AT&T-only did provide the benefits of tight voicemail integration, simplified pricing plans and painless activation. Apple may not have been able to get cooperation for that improved overall experience without the exclusive. Maybe that’s a feature rather than a bug.

M-Metrics reports only 2.8% of US mobile subscribers accessed a downloaded application in February 2008. Arguably, Apple is just as concerned with user experience as with any revenue possibilities here. While there are great mobile apps available for most handsets which should be reaching a broader audience, everything is difficult about the old way of finding, downloading and paying for applications.

Will RIM have the vision to apply pressure for similar innovations in its deals with Verizon and Vodaphone, or is the exclusive just another way to keep customers locked in? Please add your thoughts in the comments…

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