AT&T wants a universal OS for its smartphones; Magic 8-ball says, outlook not so good

The year was 2081, and everyone was finally equal… well, not really, but we might see some Harrison Bergeron-ing of smartphones in the AT&T lineup. How awful would that be? The boys in blue are anticipating that by 2014, a very large portion of sales will be comprised of smartphones. In an effort to simplify things and make it easier to get mobile applications onto all its handsets, AT&T is strongly considering a single operating system for all smartphones. Roger Smith, director of next generation services, spoke at the Symbian Partner Event in San Francisco and stated that Symbian is “a very credible and likely candidate” to be that singular OS. While Symbian is the largest OS in the world today, a move like this would surely frustrate Windows Mobile, Palm, BlackBerry and Mac OS X mobile fans, to say the least.

While this idea has its pros, it certainly has a number of cons. Developing a universal OS means pleasing the business and power users while catering to entry-level users all with one OS – not an easy task. AT&T will also complicate things for developers unless it creates a simple, standard environment in which developers can create and test apps. Another problem is that an operating system and software can often be very specific to the hardware. Can you imagine an HTC Fuze, BlackBerry Bold and an iPhone 3G performing the same exact tasks and using the same features on a single operating system? We don’t know about you guys, but we feel that variety and options are far more desirable than being forced to use a single system – hence our hatred for carrier crippling on handsets. Considering AT&T’s best selling handset is the iPhone, and the odds of Apple ever producing a Symbian handset are about as good as the odds of the Lions winning the Super Bowl this year, this just isn’t going to happen. Apple will continue to be one of AT&T’s biggest money-makers for many years to come – well beyond 2014. Beyond that, bailing on BlackBerry would result in a huge loss of AT&T’s enterprise customers as they would instantly head for the hills. If AT&T did somehow manage to pull off Symbian as a universal OS though, would you jump ship for another carrier?

Update: It looks like there are some misinterpretations in this post so we’re back to clear the air before anyone else freaks out about AT&T slapping the same OS on every smartphone it carries. First, that is definitely not going to be the case. Phones like the iPhone and BlackBerry handsets wouldn’t be affected because of how specific those operating systems are to the function and feature sets of the devices themselves. The last thing AT&T would want to do is annoy customers who have grown to depend on those features (such as visual voicemail and BlackBerry Messenger). Our good friend Marin Perez from InformationWeek has this to say, and we couldn’t have stated our clarification any better: “Of course the company would have a lot less headaches only supporting one OS, but Roger Smith said realistically that’s not going to happen. The company plans to offer the high-end experience on phones like the iPhone and BlackBerry, but Smith said there’s a large chunk in the middle that may not want that. And as the line between feature phones and entry-level smartphones blur, he thinks the new Symbian could be a good candidate for AT&T to address that chunk of the subscriber base.”

We hope that clarifies things a little bit and apologize for getting y’all riled up so early on a Friday!

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