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This article was published on March 25, 2010


    AT&T Wants to Sell “Quick-Messaging Phones” To The Middle Market

    AT&T Wants to Sell “Quick-Messaging Phones” To The Middle Market
    Michael Klurfeld
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    Michael Klurfeld

    Michael Klurfeld is a Chicago-based musician and technologist specializing in legal happenings and public policy. You can find him on Twitte Michael Klurfeld is a Chicago-based musician and technologist specializing in legal happenings and public policy. You can find him on Twitter here, or send him an email here.

    AT&T is predicting that the world of tomorrow where everyone has a smartphone isn’t as close as we all think. Speaking at CTIA, some AT&T execs claim that a big market in the coming years will be consumers who find smartphones “too expensive and too complicated.”

    The answer for these consumers, according to AT&T, is providing better features to “quick messaging phones,” the name being given to handsets that are what I would call baby smart phones. Something like the LG Neon is a good example of this category: it can browse the web and play email, and it might even have a QWERTY keyboard and a touchscreen, but it doesn’t have the hardware or the OS to be considered a smartphone.

    Interestingly, AT&T is looking to migrate features into these lower-end phones that the iPhone and Android crowds have been enjoying for a while. This means GPS, app stores (though without the scope of Apple’s), and threaded text messaging. So from AT&T’s perspective, the Motorola Backflip is a high-end quick-messaging device, not a crippled smartphone.

    Though the more technically inclined may not like it, AT&T does have a point. As chief marketing officer of AT&T David Christopher points out, smartphones are 35% of the phones AT&T sells; the remaining 65% are far lower-end devices. Where I take issue is with AT&T’s analysis of the cause.

    It’s all about the cost. If AT&T offered free iPhones with a two-year contract, that 35% number would soar. Sure, there is a market segment which does not yet want a smartphone. But that’s more because that same segment doesn’t want to pay an additional $30 a month for a data plan. Call them crazy, but shelling out for unlimited talk time is far more important to most people in the US than mobile internet.