Free phones, now free computers, why not free TVs?

If you’re in the UK reading this then you’ve quite probably seen the TV adverts for PCWorld which offer Laptops for free (or a discount of £300 on other laptops) if you sign up for a 2 year Orange broadband contract.

I’d heard about Orange in France offering some kind of deal like this but it’s interesting to see it happening here now. The fact that they are doing this raises a few issues, or points of interest anyway.

PC’s are now a commodity

This is kind of a sweeping statement but mainly I mean that PCs, and laptops especially, have become much cheaper. To the point that they are cheap enough to offered for free upon signing up for a 2 year contract for internet access!

Mobile phones are already a commodity

That whole model is pretty familiar, sign up with any mobile phone company for 12 months, 18 months or even better 24 months and they’ll offer you an increasingly better range of free mobile phones to choose from. Interestingly though, a lot of these phones are worth a lot more than a £300 laptop!

Seeing the parallel between these two business models it’s making me wonder why the cable and satellite TV companies don’t do the same?

Calling Sky & Virgin, where’s my free HD TV?

In as much as phones and laptops have become something of a commodity High Definition HD TVs are quickly following suit. PC World list 26" HD Ready LCD TVs for about £350, if a TV costs only this much then why not offer a good deal on televisions when signing up for a contract with you local cable or satellite TV company?

The costs of all these products is fairly similar, I can’t see any reason why this couldn’t be done? One added benefit is that it would greatly increase the uptake in viewing HD television and help bring more momentum behind the HD format It’s really common to change mobile phones every year or so (at least on pay monthly contracts in the UK it is anyway!) and people often upgrade computers on average between 2 – 4 years of usage. But Televisions have always had a much longer shelf life, it’s not uncommon for people to have TVs that are at least 5 years old but possibly over 10 years old!

Many people’s timescale for buying a new TV will be several years away, but they will likely switch between cable or satellite TV providers several times within the lifetime of that TV, so why not offer free TVs in exchange for signing up for a fixed contract?

Well, I do have one reason why not…

Just to balance this whole argument I have one reason why this would be a bad thing, it’s basically why the frequent offering of free mobile phone and now free computers is a bad thing – the environmental impact.

I’ve written above that phones (and computers now) are a commodity, there’s something about that I don’t like. People’s attitudes towards technology increasingly becomes far more throw away. A recent upgrade for my mobile phone landed me a shiny new Nokia N95 for free in exchange for an 18 month contract, the reality is that this device sells on Amazon at the time of writing for about £450. There’s no way I would ever have spent that kind of money on a phone, despite how smart a gadget it is. It’s easy to see how the true cost of these devices is lost on people, they’re just seen as free phones1.

It’s a little bit of a scary thought to see computers go that way and perhaps be even worse to see TVs be viewed that way. The environmental impact could be pretty huge. Not that the impact of these devices isn’t huge already of course! I appreciate that this kind of technology fills landfills regardless but at least when you pay for something you are likely to value it more than if it is just given to you. Wow, that sounds like a life lesson a parent would teach their child!2


  1. This is a purposeful decision by Apple in regards to the cost of the iPhone, it is not sold as a subsidised device but rather at it’s full market cost. Apple products tend to buck the trend of being ‘commodity’ items but rather as desirable objects.
  2. Well, I am a parent and I will teach my child that lesson ;)