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CES: AT&T gets wise to enduring appeal of smart phone market

January 6, 2010 |  5:16 pm

AT&T announced today that it plans to offer five new Android-based phones from Dell, HTC and Motorola, exclusively for the carrier, in the first half of 2010. The carrier also hopes to offer all major app stores preloaded on the devices.

And in a big bearhug to application developers down the road from the Consumer Electronics Show at its fourth annual developer summit in Las Vegas, AT&T also described its deal with chipset maker Qualcomm to standardize app development for quick messaging devices, or QMDs, which have mostly been left out of the attractive app market, in addition to making the process of developing apps for AT&T phones a bit more developer-friendly. 

We chatted with Jeff Bradley, AT&T's senior VP for devices, about what this all means. Here's an edited version of our conversation.

Jeff-Bradley Question: You guys are expanding your smart phone lineup beyond Blackberry, Windows Mobile and the behemoth iPhone.

Answer: Ralph [de la Vega, AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets president and CEO] also verbally talked about our commitment to offer Palm webOS devices, as well. So we're now the only carrier in the world that offers all of those smart phone OSs.

Q. Isn't Palm in an exclusive arrangement with Sprint?

A. You'll have to ask Palm where they're at with any kind of commercial relationships.

What we said is in the first half of this year we will offer two Palm webOS devices.   

Q: Give an overview of AT&T's strategy with these plans.

A: Our strategy to focus on smart phones isn't new. We started that three or four years ago, frankly ahead of the other carriers. The first strategy is to offer the best, most compelling portfolio of devices. In the area of smart phones, where there is a great deal of growth, we need to make sure we offer the right choice. To do that today, you have to be able to offer all of the OSs. First and foremost, it's about choice and most compelling portfolio.

If you do that, have the best choice and the best experience, then you're going to win in that category.

The second strategy, to extend what we believe is a leadership position in QMDs [quick messaging devices in the $49 to $199 range], is to offer a richer set of applications in that category of device.

Q: Is the AT&T 3G network able to support this surge of new smart phones?

A: We already have two times more smart phones than any other operator, so we start from a position of demand that no one else experiences or understands. We've been, I think, very open in the last three to four months about the investments and upgrades we're making to our network. And those investments and upgrades were fully aware of this strategy. That was baked in and built in to those upgrades. So the answer is they will be ready when this all rolls out. Remember, the Android devices roll out later in this quarter and in the next quarter. 

These QMDs launch in the second half, so we can continue to enhance the network before that.

Q: There's been no mention of Apple. Does this say anything about that relationship?

A: Nope, doesn't say a thing. What it says is we want to make sure we have the best blend of network -- billions of dollars being spent there -- we want to be the very best in terms of device portfolio, and it's the applications and services we offer.

-- Michelle Maltais in Las Vegas

Follow me at @mmaltaislat

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