It may be the exclusive iPhone carrier in the US, but AT&T
is also becoming an attractive option for consumers looking to buy an Android handset. Though things weren’t always as they are today.
If T-Mobile was the clear early leader in Android adoption among tier-one US carriers
, then AT&T was the clear laggard. Let us quickly recap highlights from the US Android timeline:
- T-Mobile launched the first Android phone in the world in late 2008.
- It took approximately one year for Verizon Wireless and Sprint to bring to market their own models, in time for the 2009 holiday season.
- AT&T began selling its first Android handset quite recently: in March 2010.
Less than six months later, AT&T will have as many as five Android phones in its portfolio
. This won’t be quite as many as Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, but it will put AT&T roughly on par with Sprint. AT&T will also be a leader from a variety standpoint, offering smartphones from vendors Motorola, HTC, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, and Dell.
So, what are the key drivers for the ramp-up?
- Catering to consumer tastes. Despite what Apple might tell you, not everyone wants an iPhone. Consumers looking for alternative features, such as a bigger screen, memory expansion, a more customizable UI, HDMI, etc., can find them among Android handsets.
- Lower subsidy levels. Now that AT&T has lowered its monthly data plan rates, there is less revenue to offset the subsidy burden. Paying $200-$300 subsidy for an Android handset seems more attractive than Apple’s $400+ subsidy.
- End of iPhone exclusivity? The Internet is always abuzz with rumors, and AT&T shifting its focus to other platforms is yet another sign that a Verizon Wireless iPhone is potentially in the works. The carrier may be strengthening its portfolio to offset potential losses once the exclusivity ends.
Regardless of AT&T’s underlying reasons, broadening the options available to consumers is a good thing for many of the involved parties. For example, shoppers get a wider selection of handsets and emerging vendors like Dell
get exposure to a growing market. However, AT&T will need to be careful in managing the persistent issue of fragmentation
. While developers and content providers will be happy to have a larger Android installed base for which to create applications and services, they will also be faced with the cost of addressing multiple models/processors/resolutions/etc.