Region-exclusive smartphone colors need to stop, please

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Opinion post by
C. Scott Brown

Last week, Samsung officially unveiled the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10 Plus. The latest-and-greatest flagships from the company sport all the bells and whistles one would expect from a smartphone at the top of its class (well, except for one feature).

To further entice you to spend $1,000 or more on a brand new Note 10, Samsung is selling them in some really neat colorways, including one called Aura Glow, which looks very similar to the gradient designs of the Huawei P30 Pro. There’s also Aura Blue, Aura White, Aura Black, Aura Red, and Aura Pink.

Or is there? While all those smartphone colors do exist for the Note 10 line, there are some significant limitations. For instance, the Aura Blue color is only available in the United States and only on the Note 10 Plus and only if you buy from Best Buy or directly from Samsung. Aura Red, on the other hand, isn’t available in the United States at all, nor is Aura Pink.

To be clear, even though there are six potential colors for the Note 10, only three of them are available for all device variants in every location: black, white, and Aura Glow.

Although Samsung is probably the most egregious offender when it comes to offering region-locked smartphone colors, it isn’t alone in the practice. OnePlus does the same thing, and Xiaomi and Huawei have both released region-exclusive designs several times.

From a manufacturing and marketing standpoint, limiting the promotion of different colorways to certain parts of the world makes sense. That doesn’t make it any less annoying, though, and there’s still no logical reason not to offer all colors online for people who want to buy direct.

I get it: Shipping all colors everywhere wouldn’t work

Samsung Galaxy S10 vs Samsung Galaxy S10e back - green, yellow

Logistically, it would be crazy for Samsung or any large smartphone manufacturer to produce six different smartphone colorways for a device and then promote and sell all those colorways in every country.

The biggest problem with trying to do this would be supply and demand. What if you ship two million red Galaxy Note 10 devices to the United States but find out no one likes it there? Then you have product sitting on shelves collecting dust, which not only means lost revenue but also the wasted expense of shipping those items there in the first place.

It would be logistically difficult for an OEM to offer every smartphone color in every shop around the world. That’s not what I’m asking for.

On that same front, promoting all six colors of the Note 10 line could be too much information for a marketing department to handle. Granted, Apple seemed to do it just fine with its colorful line of iPhone XR smartphones, which have sold the best of all iPhones since the 2018 launch — but I can understand why a marketing team would say six colorways is too many for consumers to handle.

There’s also the issue of different cultures and what they want and find “cool.” A middle-aged businessman living in one part of the world might outright reject the idea of owning a phone that isn’t black, white, or some other neutral color, while a similar man living in a different part of the world might love a bright blue or purple smartphone. Surely, Samsung (and other OEMs) have a lot of data to show where certain colorways will work well and where they won’t.

This all makes perfect sense to me. However, it still doesn’t explain why I can’t get the smartphone color I want regardless of where I live.

Why can’t I just buy online?

OnePlus 7 red back panel

I totally concede that a random person walking into a random smartphone store in any random part of the world shouldn’t expect to find all six colors of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 on offer. However, it makes zero sense to me why that same person can’t go online and buy any variant in any color no matter where he or she might live.

The Aura Red and Aura Pink versions of the Note 10 exist. They are physically available. Why won’t Samsung sell them to me?

Let’s move away from Samsung and talk about another company that loves to offer region-exclusive smartphone colors: OnePlus. Recently, OnePlus launched the OnePlus 7 and OnePlus 7 Pro. The 7 Pro comes in three colors: Nebula Blue, Mirror Gray, and Almond, all of which I can buy from OnePlus.com right now.

OnePlus built its brand on online sales rather than stocking physical shops. So why is it region-locking colorways?

However, the vanilla OnePlus 7 (which is not available in the United States at all) comes in Mirror Gray, Nebula Blue, and red. If you want red, though, you need to live in India or China, as the red variant isn’t available outside those countries. In the U.K., the Nebula Blue color isn’t available either, leaving our friends across the pond literally one choice when it comes to the color of their OnePlus 7.

This makes no sense to me. If I — a United States citizen — want to buy a red OnePlus 7, why can’t I? I fully realize I could hit up eBay or some other third-party retailer and find the device I want, but why can’t I go to OnePlus.com and order the phone I want in the color I want? Isn’t that half the point of buying stuff online, to be able to get whatever we want without needing to worry about whether the local shop carries it?

Colorful options are great, but not if I can’t get them

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus Aura Glow vs Samsung Galaxy Note9 Blue at angle

For years, the smartphone industry looked pretty dull when it came to unique colors and designs. Most smartphones came in one color — usually black — and even if multiple colors were on offer they were always neutral, like dark gray, or white.

Recently, though, Chinese smartphone manufacturers took the risk of offering different smartphone colors and found that consumers flocked to them. The Huawei P20 Pro from 2018 was probably the biggest representation of this new trend with Huawei telling us it sold more P20 Pros in the Twilight colorway than it did any other, including black.

Now, Samsung is getting in on the action, offering multiple interesting colors of the Samsung Galaxy S10 family and the new Note 10 family, as well. I, for one, am so happy to see this trend, as smartphones should be fun and represent you, the owner. The more choice you have, the better, as far as I’m concerned.

It’s bad form to list out all the available colors of a smartphone but then not offer those colors to everyone.

But that choice means nothing if you can’t actually choose. In the case of the Note 10 line, Samsung appears to be offering six colors but, in reality, only consistently offers three — and two of those three are just regular ol’ black and white. That takes all the fun out of it.

It would be so easy for Samsung — or any other OEM — to promote and sell specific colorways of smartphones in specific regions of the world where it makes sense to do so while simultaneously offering the full color gamut online. In fact, wouldn’t it be cost-effective to only ship out neutral colorways of a new device to physical shops and then just say other colors are available online? Doesn’t that make sense?

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