AT&T jumps on board with Android

AT&T announced that it will sell phones based on Google's Android mobile OS after being assured that it could customize the devices with more than just Google apps

AT&T plans to sell phones based on Google's Android operating system, after being assured by the search giant that it won't be forced to offer all-Google applications, the operator's chief executive said on Wednesday.

AT&T was absent from the initial list of mobile service providers that said they'd sell phones with Google's open-source mobile operating system, but the operator is changing its tune after a recent meeting with the search giant.

In February, AT&T Mobility President and CEO Ralph de la Vega met with Google for an in-depth briefing on Android, he said, speaking during a press lunch at the CTIA Wireless conference in Las Vegas. Google assured AT&T that the operator would be able to customize Android phones to include any applications, he said. "That's attractive to us. We were concerned that maybe the focus was just on Google apps," de la Vega said.

"If it's good for customers we'll offer it like any other OS," he said. "It is something we'd want in our portfolio."

When Android was launched in November, Sprint and T-Mobile said they'd use it, but AT&T and Verizon stayed mum. Shortly after the launch, Verizon announced plans to open its network to any device, which means customers could be able to use Android phones on its network at least in an unsupported fashion.

AT&T's delayed acceptance of Android points to some of the confusion that operators seem to have about the forthcoming operating system, said Charles Golvin, an analyst with Forrester Research. Many of them have been uncertain about how much control they might have over the operating system.

AT&T's reason for changing course could also point to some potential problems users might find with Android. If each of the operators customizes their own Android phones, it is uncertain if applications will be able to run across all the different phones. "It's unknown," said Golvin.

In addition to Android phones, de la Vega said that the much-anticipated 3G iPhone will become available in the next few months. AT&T's entire line of smartphones will be available in 3G models within that time frame, he said.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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