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Wednesday, January 06, 2010, 12:35 pm PT (03:35 pm ET)

AT&T to release Android, WebOS devices & new app platform

AT&T, the exclusive carrier of the iPhone in the U.S., revealed on Wednesday plans to launch its first five Android-based handsets in the first half of 2010, two WebOS devices, and a new mobile application platform for non-smartphones.

The devices include a Motorola smartphone powered by MOTOBLUR, its social networking software; Dell's first smartphone, the Mini 3 — an AT&T exclusive; and a new HTC handset also exclusive to AT&T. The company also said that two Palm WebOS-based devices would be offered "soon."

AT&T also revealed its "Apps to All" initiative, which aims to bring mobile applications beyond smartphones and to more basic mobile phones for all consumers. A new software development kit will be issued to encourage this.

Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, said currently only iPhone users can take advantage of the platform's more than 100,000 apps. His company would like to see those options expand to other platforms as well.

"Our goal is to bring more apps to millions more of our customers who want convenient access to the market's hottest apps," de la Vega said. "At the same time, in the future, we plan to go well beyond mobile devices to spur apps development."

To reach that goal, AT&T has reached an agreement with chip maker Qualcomm to standardize app development for mid-range Quick Messaging Devices using the BREW Mobile Platform. AT&T said the devices are used by millions of customers who typically do not have access to the variety of software seen on smartphones. An estimated 30 percent of AT&T's postpaid customers who are new or upgrading are using a Quick Messaging Device.

The AT&T App Center will adopt a similar business model to Apple's App Store, with a 70-30 revenue split favoring developers.

The BREW mobile platform will begin appearing on the company's Quick Messaging Devices in the second half of the year. AT&T hopes that 90 percent of its devices in that segment will be based on BREW by 2011.

"Today, developers must essentially rebuild apps for different handsets and operating systems, increasing their costs, slowing the pace of innovation and stalling the delivery of mobile apps to customers," said David Christopher, AT&T chief marketing officer. "We want to tear down the barriers and make it much easier for developers to reach our customers — and for our customers to access apps."

The company also announced a new "Virtual Innovation Lab" and two "Innovation Centers," which it said will help developers and spur development of new applications.

In addition, AT&T has stated a goal to offer all major smartphone OS app stores, in addition to the Android Market and iPhone App Store. Existing agreements are already in place with Nokia's Ovi store and Microsoft's Windows Marketplace. Carrier billing for mobile application stores will also be integrated.

The moves could be a sign of how AT&T intends to offset the inevitable loss of iPhone exclusivity. It is widely believed that the wireless carrier's contract with Apple expires this year. AT&T executives have, on numerous occasions, said that their contract with Apple to have exclusive access to the iPhone in the U.S. will not last forever.

With more than 3 billion downloads to date in the iPhone App Store., numerous companies have looked to replicate Apple's success. In addition to the Android Marketplace and other similar mobile phone-based stores, Intel plans to create a store for Atom-based netbooks, and TV manufacturers are interested in allowing cross-platform applications on a variety of different sets. AT&T competitor Verizon, the largest wireless carrier in the U.S., also plans to have its own application store.

Most notably missing from AT&T's announcement Wednesday was Google's just-announced, Android-powered Nexus One. While the device can be bought unlocked and run on the AT&T network, it is not compatible with the company's high-speed 3G wireless frequency. On Tuesday, Google revealed that the handset, currently available for T-Mobile, would come to Verizon in the U.S. this spring.