Google, AT&T Spar Over Android Updates

Last week AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson made an appearance at the Milken Institutes 2012 Global Conference in Los Angeles. During his talk he made several remarks about that have gotten quite a bit...
Google, AT&T Spar Over Android Updates
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  • Last week AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson made an appearance at the Milken Institutes 2012 Global Conference in Los Angeles. During his talk he made several remarks about that have gotten quite a bit of attention in recent days.

    He spoke at some length about both the iPhone and Android. During the Q&A section of the talk, an audience member asked Stephenson about the delay between Google’s release of updates to its Android operating system and the deployment of those updates by carriers. For example, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich has been available since the launch of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus in December, but only a fraction of the Android smartphones capable of supporting the new OS have been updated so far.

    The general consensus has always been that the responsibility for those delays belongs to the carrier. The carriers – in concert with device manufacturers, who have to get the OS working on their various devices – decide when a new Android OS rolls out to customers. In his remarks, however, Stephenson painted a different picture. He placed the blame for update delays on Google’s doorstep, saying that “Google determines what platform gets the newest releases and when,” and that such arrangements are often negotiated by Google ahead of time.

    In effect, Stephenson told the questioner – who was expressing frustration with the delays and had ultimately switched to the iPhone because of them – to blame Google. Well, as you might expect, this didn’t sit too well with Google. In a statement made to 9to5Google last night, the company denied that it had any agreements in place dealing with the release of Android updates. Quite the contrary, they said: once the first handset running the new OS (e.g., the Galaxy Nexus) has hit the market and they can be sure that it is relatively free of bugs, they make the source code available online for free.

    Remember, Android is open source, meaning that anybody can download it and compile it and put it on a smartphone if they want to. The source code for Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich has been available for several months now. Once the code is published, it is the responsibility of the carriers and the handset makers to get their own versions of the OS onto users’ phones. In other words, contrary to Mr. Stephenson’s claims, if your AT&T Android phone isn’t running the latest version of Android, AT&T and your phone’s manufacturer are the ones you should be looking at.

    Stephenson also discussed the iPhone, and the early days of its availability on AT&T’s network back in 2007. He noted that the company was taking a significant gamble on Steve Jobs’s new business model. He also discussed his regrets regarding the original unlimited data plan offered with the iPhone in 2007. With the launch of the iPhone 3G in 2008 (and the App Store along with it), data use – including texting – by iPhone users skyrocketed. He expressed his wish that they had changed the data pricing model earlier than they did. AT&T ditched its unlimited data plan in 2010 and moved to a tiered pricing model.

    Stephenson also spoke about carrier subsidies, which have been a topic of some discussion lately. He said that he is often asked whether he is bothered by how much value Apple is extracting out of the handset market due to subsidies. His response was that he is not bothered, “as long as we’re extracting value, too.”

    Finally, he expressed worry over iMessage, which he finds troublesome because it disrupts AT&T’s business model. “If you’re using iMessage,” he said, “you’re not using one of our messaging services,” which is “disruptive to our messaging revenue stream.”

    You can check out the entire video for yourself below. Stephenson’s comments about Android begin at the 44:42 mark, while the iPhone comments begin around 6 minutes in. Check out the video for yourself below, and let us know what you think in the comments.

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