AT&T used CES to kick off a bold push into the Android and Palm webOS smartphone markets, confirming it would release five Google Android-based handsets and two webOS handsets in the first half of 2010. The company's Android crop includes units by Motorola and HTC and also Dell's first-ever smartphone.
AT&T announced the upcoming phones at its 4th Annual AT&T Developer Summit in Las Vegas -- happening in conjunction with CES -- along with a goal to bring "apps to all" through a standardized app development platform for AT&T's low-end quick messaging devices.
"Today some AT&T customers can take advantage of more than 100,000 apps -- but only if they have the right handset," said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, in a statement. "Our goal is to bring more apps to millions more of our customers who want convenient access to the market's hottest apps. At the same time, in the future, we plan to go well beyond mobile devices to spur apps development."
Among the new Android phones headed for AT&T are an exclusive release of Dell's first smartphone -- the Mini 3, already available in China and Brazil -- an HTC phone, and a Motorola phone that, like the previously released Motorola Cliq, will use Motorola's MotoBlur technology.
Details were scant on the Palm WebOS phones, but the news sent Palm's shares up 6 percent in afternoon trading.
The timing of the announcements -- and the embrace of new smartphone platforms it previously didn't have -- suggest AT&T is antsy about the prospect of losing its exclusive U.S. carrier status for Apple's iPhone. Through agreements for Android and for Palm's WebOS, it's hitching its wagon to two platforms that made for some of the 10 Coolest Smartphones of 2009.
"One has to wonder if the time of their iPhone exclusivity is coming to an end and if they're doing this to prepare for that eventuality," Interpret analyst Michael Gartenberg told Reuters Wednesday.
Quick messaging devices are another frontier for AT&T. Through an agreement with Qualcomm, the carrier is launching a new mobile development platform called BREW, which AT&T said will be its primary operating system for quick messaging devices and through which it hopes to open the floodgates on app development for consumers who prefer basic, low-end handsets.
AT&T said about 30 percent of all the handset phones it has sold since fall 2008 have been quick messaging devices. The first BREW-based quick messaging device will arrive from Samsung in the second half of 2010, and both LG and Pantech have signed on to deliver handsets by early 2011.
Meanwhile, the enhanced AT&T developer program includes a 70/30 revenue share split for third party developers, a virtual network environment for testing new apps called the AT&T Sandbox, an app tracker tool called AT&T Developer Dashboard, and the formation of a new advisory board, the AT&T Developer Council.