Should AT&T Consolidate To One Smartphone Platform? - InformationWeek

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12/5/2008
11:51 AM
Eric Ogren
Eric Ogren
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Should AT&T Consolidate To One Smartphone Platform?

At a Symbian event in San Francisco this week, an AT&T exec suggested that the company would like to support only one smartphone operating system for a number of reasons. Could AT&T survive with just one smartphone platform?

At a Symbian event in San Francisco this week, an AT&T exec suggested that the company would like to support only one smartphone operating system for a number of reasons. Could AT&T survive with just one smartphone platform?The idea makes some sense from a business perspective. Were AT&T to actually ditch all but one platform, that means it could reduce support and development costs across the board. PC World reports, "The mobile operator believes smartphones will make up the largest portion of devices connecting to its network by about 2014, and it wants to avoid the fragmentation of platforms that has made it hard to develop mobile applications." That's understandable, but I think it would cause more problems than it solves.

Right now, AT&T offers phones running Windows Mobile, BlackBerry OS, Palm OS, and the iPhone. AT&T does offer a Nokia device that runs S60, but AT&T doesn't classify that device (or OS) as worthy of bearing the smartphone moniker. AT&T doesn't yet offer a phone running the Android OS. AT&T considers the iPhone a third-party device that just happens to use AT&T's wireless services, so don't think the iPhone is going away any time soon.

How many of your businesses use AT&T and support both Windows Mobile and BlackBerry? Could you do without one or the other? What's more interesting is that the executive who made the comments, Roger Smith, director of next generation services, data product realization at AT&T, also said that the company considers Symbian the most likely candidate to fill that spot.

Wow. Really? AT&T has all-but-ignored Symbian completely, especially the S60 smartphone platform from Nokia. Where did this drastic reversal in thinking come from?

Has Nokia's strategic shift of buying out the Symbian Foundation, with plans to offer Symbian open source, changed AT&T's mind? It's too early to really know what the future of Symbian is going to offer, so why AT&T would bank everything on it raises eyebrows. Of course, this would be a major win for Nokia, which has hitherto seen its market share in the U.S. wither away the past few years. The developer base for Symbian is huge, but the platform needs to make major leaps and bounds in usability to catch up to the likes of iPhone OS, the newer BlackBerry OS, and feature phones that are besting smartphones in usability.

In the end, however, I don't think AT&T can live without Windows Mobile and BlackBerry, which are what the core of its enterprise users pick for their businesses.

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