AT&T Says ‘Jury Still Out’ on Race for Third Phone Platform

‘Jury Still Out’ on Race for Third Phone Platform
Mobile devices at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Feb. 27, 2012. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

The race between Microsoft Corp. and Research In Motion Ltd. to become the world’s third smartphone platform after Apple Inc.’s iOS and Android is still undecided, said Ralph de la Vega, AT&T Inc.’s wireless chief.

“The jury is still out” on what consumers want as an alternative to Apple or the Google Inc. platform, de la Vega, president of AT&T Mobility, said at a press briefing at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Nokia Oyj and BlackBerry maker RIM have both lost market share to iOS and Android over the past two years and turned to new operating systems to try to revive sales. Nokia teamed up with Microsoft and its Windows Phone platform to introduce a new line of Lumia handsets. AT&T will begin selling the high-end Lumia 900 in the coming months.

“I think they’re going to have a winner in the U.S.,” de la Vega said of Nokia. Dallas-based AT&T, the world’s largest phone company by revenue, also sells BlackBerry, iPhone and Android models.

While he doesn’t see Windows replacing the BlackBerry platform, Microsoft’s decisions to develop a consistent look for desktop computers, smartphones and tablet devices gives the Redmond, Washington-based company a unique advantage over Android and BlackBerry, de la Vega said.

‘Game Changer’

“You’ll have the same look and feel on your PC you have on your tablet and smartphone, that’s a game-changer for Microsoft,” he said. “That’s something that some of its competitors don’t have. Android doesn’t have a bunch of Android PCs out there, neither does RIM.”

Apple and Android’s market share in smartphones has surged in recent years, eclipsing RIM and Nokia’s Symbian platform, which it discarded in favor of Windows.

Android’s share jumped to 51 percent in the fourth quarter from 31 percent a year earlier as Apple’s climbed to 24 percent from 16 percent, according to data from researcher Gartner Inc. RIM’s share fell to 8.8 percent from 15 percent, Symbian’s dropped to 12 percent from 32 percent and Microsoft declined to 1.9 percent from 3.4 percent, the data shows.

It’s not clear whether there will be a “big three or big four” and the future will be shaped by what customers want and are willing to pay for, said Glenn Lurie, AT&T’s president for emerging devices.

Looking for Spectrum

“The big two have built a phenomenal ecosystem around their OS,” Lurie said today in an interview at AT&T’s ‘Connected House’ showroom at the Mobile World Congress. “The question is who’s going to build that full ecosystem that delivers customers the experience they want for multiple devices. It’s not just the smartphones anymore.”

To acquire more wireless spectrum to meet demand for data-hungry smartphones, AT&T bid last year to buy competitor T-Mobile USA Inc. That deal fell apart in December amid U.S. regulators’ concerns that it would harm competition. On Dec.22 the carrier won approval from federal regulators for its $1.93 billion purchase of Qualcomm Inc. airwaves.

The search for more spectrum continues today as AT&T is “continuously looking,” de la Vega said. “It’s a worldwide problem, folks don’t realize how fast it’s getting exhausted.”

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