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AT&T: BREW phones on the way

Though AT&T announced no specific BREW-enabled phones at Uplinq, its CMO says Qualcomm’s app platform will be focal point of upcoming quick message phones.

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SAN DIEGO — AT&T (NYSE:T) didn’t take the tarp off any new BREW phones at Qualcomm’s (NASDAQ:QCOM) Uplinq developer event today, but mobility chief marketing officer David Christopher said AT&T has laid a lot of the BREW groundwork since its initial commitment to the platform in January.

While AT&T’s smartphone strategy remains unchanged, it plans to make Qualcomm’s revamped BREW Mobile MP a key component of its efforts to encourage mobile data usage on for its feature phone customers, focusing it on a category of SMS and e-mail-centered handsets it calls quick-messaging phones (QMPs), Christopher said. AT&T has 10 new QMPs in the works, though Christopher did not specify if all of them will all be BREW enabled.

While QMPs are becoming increasingly popular among the 65% of AT&T’s customers that can’t afford or don’t want smartphones, the full potential of the handsets as mobile data devices hasn’t been realized because of the lack of a consistent application experience. BREW will give AT&T a unified application runtime environment for a broad swath of feature phones as well as a central distribution and billing platform — much like the BREW-based Get It Now store that competitor Verizon Wireless (NYES:VZ, NYSE:VOD) uses for its own feature phones.

But Christopher implied that AT&T would be doing much more than drawing upon the existing library of BREW apps for its launch. By launching a robust developer program, AT&T is hoping to encourage new, more sophisticated applications tailored for its network and devices. It is extending application programming interfaces (APIs) for messaging, location and device identification to developers and has launched a virtual sandbox where upcoming APIs will be available for developers to experiment with before they become officially available over the network.

In another big step, AT&T is decentralizing app distribution, allowing customers to go outside of AT&T App Center to get their content and applications. Though the platform won’t be a completely open one, such as Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG), AT&T will work with selected aggregators to provide off-portal apps. The approach is actually more open than the one AT&T is taking with its Android phones. For that operating system prohibited any app downloads outside of the Android Market. Going outside of the AT&T store could open up AT&T’s feature phones to wealth of other content, especially considering it plans to load the Java Virtual Machine on many of its devices, allowing it tap into a Java developer community much larger than BREW.

Furthermore, AT&T is also taking steps to grow the potential market for AT&T developers working on BREW apps. It is currently coordinating its development efforts with America Movil.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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