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Why Android smartphones are perfect for prepaid

If you follow the blog often, you know that there is an increasing number of Android smartphones available for prepaid services. This is just another indicator of how much the industry has changed in the past few years. When we first started blogging about prepaid wireless services — all the way back in May of 2007 — there were no prepaid smartphones. In fact, smartphones weren’t very big at all. BlackBerry was by far the best option, and the iPhone hadn’t even hit the market. Now there are dozens of smartphones available from a number of prepaid carriers. But no matter where you look, Android provides the best value.

Prepaid users want value
As prepaid wireless services have changed, so have their users. It’s tough to say whether carriers changed based on user demand, or whether users started buying newer services because carriers made them available. Either way, we’ve seen rapid advancement in the last few years, and smartphones have now become commonplace in the prepaid market. But the best selling ones are the ones that provide the most value.
That might seem like an obvious statement, but it’s not an easy concept to execute. In order to provide value, carriers have to find handsets that people will love at a price that they will accept. There have been a number of high quality handsets on prepaid carriers, but at $300 to $400 it’s not the best value proposition. It’s one reason we haven’t seen the iPhone on prepaid. The value proposition doesn’t match up for enough users.
What about BlackBerry?
It’s a relatively new development, but many prepaid carriers have picked up BlackBerry smartphones for their lineups. Yet we’ve seen little movement forward from any of these carriers. Here’s a quick list of four prepaid carriers who do carry the BlackBerry.

  • Boost Mobile. They once carried the BlackBerry Style 9670, a flip phone, but they’re apparently out of stock. There is likely no plan to re-order. They also have the Curve 8530, an outdated handset.
  • Cricket carries the Curve 8530 as well, but that’s it. It’s been available for over a year, and there have been no plans to add a new BlackBerry.
  • MetroPCS has the same deal as Cricket. There just seems to be no movement on this front.
  • Virgin Mobile once carried the 8530, but in mid-November it no longer appeared on the website. An email to Virgin revealed that they are simply out of stock, but it has been more than a month now.

It’s not that the BlackBerry is a bad smartphone. It does bring basic features, such as email, calendar, and contacts, and it has plenty of social apps such as Facebook and Twitter. It also has BBM, which is a favorite of the BlackBerry crowd. But with the BlackBerry crowd diminishing that’s less of a selling point.
What it comes down to with BlackBerry: it’s a mid-range device with a higher-end price tag. You’ll see a lot of BlackBerry devices in the $180 to $200 range. That might seem acceptable, but Android smartphones can do a lot more for the same, or less, money.
Android is about the value
What makes Android a great value proposition is the low end. That is, even a low-end Android handset is still as good as, if not better than, the BlackBerry. And so users can buy an Android handset for $100 and get plenty of value out of it. It still has those basic smartphone features, it still has social features, and, most of all, it has access to the Android Market.
With hundreds of thousands of apps available, even low-end Android handsets have some value proposition. Users can also take advantage of unlimited plans, which typically cost $55 per month. Even better, with a loyalty plan like Boost’s users can end up paying $40 per month for their service eventually. That is, the value is there in both the handset and in the plan. And that is why Android handsets, and particularly low-end Android handsets, are the best bet for the prepaid market.

4 Responses

  1. Michael Says

    Android is fine for the higher end devices, but they aren’t offered as prepaid phones yet. The biggest problem with the low-end Android phones that prepaid sellers DO offer is that people are used to EVERY new Blackberry or iPhone being able to run every new app available.

    Android OS is so fractured (by OS and chipset and processor speed) that you end up with irritated customers who can’t figure out why Angry Birds can’t run on their brand-new device, when everyone else can play it.

    Yes, these people can be called “uninformed”. Reality is that we are here because we are phone geeks. We know this stuff. *WE* know the Motorola Triumphs of the prepaid world are crappy, plasticky out-dated handsets, but most people don’t have the time or interest to research a new phone, especially when they hear marketing of “Android = awesome” over and over. They don’t understand that not every Android device is equal, when every BB Curve is the same, every Bold is the same, every iPhone 4S is the same. Even every Windows 7 phone is the same. There is no: “Tegra chip phones can run this app, while these chips can’t”, “OS2.3.4 can’t run on this processor, so Netflix won’t run on X device, that just came out on Tuesday”.

    Android is great for prepaid companies, but until Google gets their OS’s act together and offer a single unified platform for every device (like Microsoft, RIM ad Apple do…), you will find that Android is not great for prepaid CUSTOMERS.

    Virgin is rumored to be offering 2 or 3 of the Blackberry 7 phones next Spring and at least one of the Sprint prepaid companies will be selling the iPhone 4 (not 4S). Cricket and Metro are looking into Windows Phone 7.

    They are all better operating systems, from a stability perspective and in the long run, more customers will be happier with their phones since they will all work properly.

    Unless you are a hacker or a rube looking for a shiny new touchscreen p.o.s., then wait for Google to fix Android before investing your hard-earned dollars on a new handset. They CAN clearly get this right if they try. Chrome is actually a better browser than Firefox. (Haven’t tried FF9 yet.) They have the know-how. They don’t have the desire yet. Which is a shame, because the Android OS could be so spectacular if and when they bother to fix it.

    Posted on December 21st, 2011 at 5:28 pm
  2. Dayne Says

    Thank you Micheal! Dare I even mention that I quite liked my Nokia once upon a time. If anything I quite like BB’s. I just wish they were also available for tracfone’s range of plans, and not just destined for the pseudo ‘big players’. If RIM wanted to stay alive and kicking, then I reckon a partnership with the big MVNO would be a step in the right direction.

    Posted on December 26th, 2011 at 7:42 pm
  3. Phil Larsen Says

    Sorry gentlemen, but Android does a perfectly fine job. I have Motorola Triumph and wife had LG Slider, both from Virgin Mobile. My previous phone was an Android phone with ATT. Really, few problems to speak of. I wouldn’t hesitate to get yourself a prepaid android phone. BTW, Microsoft Windows has “fragmentation” too…but at the end of the day it does what you need it to at an inexpensive price.

    Posted on December 28th, 2011 at 11:33 am
  4. Patty Says

    Some very valid points, Michael, though I think many users who are long-term prepaid users are just happy to see Android offered, and that compared to the phones that have been on offer over the last couple of years, even the low end droids are a vast improvement. If I look at the comments and reviews I’ve read about the Androids now offered on Tracfone’s Straighttalk, the complaints are not about the phone, the cost or the service, but about the limitations of them being offered only on Sprint’s network, which limits the user base considerably.

    Posted on December 31st, 2011 at 3:53 am

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