AT&T's Bradley: Simplicity is key to the smartphone experience

BARCELONA, Spain--The news out of Mobile World Congress demonstrates that the term "mobile" is no longer just about smartphones but also can refer to gadgets like Huawei's new 2-in-1 MateBook tablet, Epson's Moverio AR glasses and a range of other devices. As connectivity comes to an ever-increasing number of devices, some have speculated that the importance of the smartphone is waning as we begin to enter a post-smartphone world.

But don't tell that to Jeff Bradley.

"We think of the smartphone as the remote control of your life," said Bradley, AT&T's senior vice president of devices, in an interview with FierceWireless at the conference this week. The phone can be used as a remote interface for a wide range of things, Bradley continued: home owners can use it to control and monitor smart thermostats and appliances, drivers can integrate the phone with their cars, and parents can track their kids' whereabouts with the phone.

"This thing is getting more and more capable of being able to unify" a wide variety of devices and services, he said. An example of this is AT&T's NumberSync, he said, which enables a user to share his or her primary phone number with other connected devices even if the phone isn't connected to a cell network.

And Bradley showcased another example in the form of a new DirecTV app that has yet to be announced. The app, which will be available on Samsung's new Galaxy S7 handsets, allows DirecTV customers to use the phone as a remote control, replete with an on-screen channel guide.

The combination of simplicity and interoperability has become a primary focus for AT&T's devices division, Bradley said. In a saturated U.S. smartphone market, the nation's second-largest carrier hopes that strategy sets it apart as it expands further into media and the IoT.

"We spend a lot more time than we used to thinking about the experience on the phone out of the box," he explained. And Bradley, who oversees the operator's developer community, said much of that work is done helping and encouraging developers to build apps that work as seamlessly as possible with other apps and with the OS itself.

But AT&T, which saw revenues from wireless services drop during the latest quarter, continues to pursue devices other than smartphones, of course, and Bradley is particularly optimistic about the smartwatch market despite continued concerns over consumer demand. The wearables can help keep users connected when they don't want to tote the phone around, or if they forget the phone to run some quick errands. Smartwatches are still in their early days, he maintained, and factors such as battery life, user interfaces and watch-optimized apps are evolving quickly.

"I can triage my life from my connected wrist," Bradley said of the value of smartphones. "We're one iteration away from having it all come together."

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