As Verizon embraces Firefox OS for smartphones, AT&T remains on the fence

BARCELONA, Spain--AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) will continue to consider supporting new, emerging smartphone platforms like Firefox and others, but so far the carrier hasn't seen a compelling reason to do so, said a top AT&T executive. That position stands in contrast to Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ), which this week announced it will sell phones running the Firefox OS starting next year.

"We'll continue to assess it [Firefox]," said Jeff Bradley, senior vice president of devices and developer services for AT&T. "We're constantly tuning the [handset] portfolio."

However, Bradley said that AT&T only supports those smartphone platforms that it believes offer compelling new services--essentially, reasons that customers might switch from the smartphone they are currently using. He said new platforms like Firefox, Tizen and Ubuntu haven't yet offered those types of user experiences. He also pointed to the importance of a phone's ecosystem--he said users are keen to access their favorite apps, including ones beyond popular apps like Facebook and Instagram, like those for their local bank. Such apps are often only available on major platforms like Android and iOS since smaller app developers generally don't have the wherewithal to develop versions of their apps for smaller smartphone platforms.

Bradley's comments are noteworthy considering AT&T's longtime support for new, emerging smartphone platforms. The company launched the HTC First, dubbed the Facebook phone, in 2013. (It subsequently discontinued the device after sluggish sales.) More recently, the carrier was the exclusive U.S. carrier for the Amazon Fire smartphone--though that phone too has suffered from lethargic sales. Bradley said AT&T plans to continue to provide new and different devices when it makes sense.

"We're not afraid of taking a chance and taking a risk" on new smartphones, Bradley said.

Verizon's support for the Firefox OS represents a major step forward for the smartphone platform. Internet company Mozilla introduced the Firefox OS in 2013. (At the time Sprint said it would support the platform, but has since backed away from that commitment.) Today, a number of smaller handset makers and carriers in countries such as India have moved to support the Firefox platform. Mozilla has positioned the Firefox OS as a gateway to the Internet for first-time smartphone buyers in emerging marketing looking for an inexpensive device--making Verizon's support for the platform surprising considering the relative maturity of the U.S. market in general and Verizon's affluent demographic targets specifically.

During an interview here on the sidelines of the Mobile World Congress trade show, Bradley also discussed AT&T's support for BlackBerry and Windows Phone devices, as well as the carrier's efforts to lower the cost of its prepaid LTE phones. Bradley said AT&T now offers LTE smartphones from big name smartphone providers like Motorola, HTC and Microsoft for less than $150, a price he described as "an important compliment to the portfolio."

Bradley also said he believes Microsoft's next smartphone OS--Windows 10--will be successful in the market. "I think it's an awesome experience," he said. "I'm personally a big fan of the UI."

Later this year, Microsoft said it will release both computers and phones running its overhauled Windows 10 operating system, a platform that stands as an upgrade to the company's current Windows Phone 8 operating system.

This week AT&T made a number of device-related announcements, including its new Modio LTE Case for iPad mini. The case includes a battery, storage and wireless connecting that will allow iPad mini users who don't have a cellular connection built in to their tablet to access AT&T's network via a Wi-Fi connection between the tablet and the case. The case will be available March 20 for $49.99 with a two-year agreement.

For more:
- see this AT&T post

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