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Would AT&T really go this far to undermine Google’s control of Android?

Published Mar 30th, 2016 6:45PM EDT
AT&T Vs Google Cyanogen Android Phone

When you think of Google’s major rivals, you typically think of Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and maybe even Amazon. But what about AT&T? A new report from The Information claims that AT&T is actually working developing a new smartphone with the help of Cyanogen, the company that last year vowed to “take Android away from Google.” It looks like AT&T and Cyanogen had been courting Chinese manufacturer ZTE to make the device, although recent trade sanctions leveled against the company put its future involvement in the project in doubt.

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Why is AT&T doing this? According to The Information, AT&T believes that “if the proposed phone sells, it could weaken Google’s control of Android in the U.S. and set back its efforts to be more competitive with Apple by creating a consistent experience across all Android phones.”

And therein lies the rub: What could an AT&T-developed device deliver that Android phones from Samsung, LG and Google’s own Nexus line can’t? AT&T might try to basically give it away to entice prospective buyers but I can’t see that strategy delivering any long-term brand loyalty if it delivers a subpar experience.

Cyanogen last year said that it is “making a version of Android that is more open so we can integrate with more partners so their servicers can be tier one services.” The downside with this approach, however, is that any Cyanogen devices wouldn’t have access to the Google Play Store or Google’s own app ecosystem.

While the bare bones of Android are open source, a major component of the platform is the Google Mobile Services (GMS) code that isn’t open source and thus can’t be forked. Basically, Android without GMS means you don’t have access to Google Play, Google Maps, Gmail and Google Now. For a lot of people, that’s a nonstarter.

Prior to joining BGR as News Editor, Brad Reed spent five years covering the wireless industry for Network World. His first smartphone was a BlackBerry but he has since become a loyal Android user.