AT&T had 42 Android phones in its portfolio in 2015. It now has a total of 22 smartphones among the three operating systems it carries. It’s the result of a strategy shift that progressive wireless industry watchers have been looking toward since T-Mobile dropped two-year service contracts in 2013.
A BayStreet Research note, relayed through FierceWireless, from late last year claims that the carrier’s pull away from hardware-led initiatives to multi-service packaging schemes like DIRECTV NOW is leaving many phone manufacturers behind. That is, if their names aren’t either Apple or Samsung.
“AT&T’s new approach appears to assume consumers will buy either an iPhone or Samsung flagship, with reps instead focused on selling consumers a differentiated portfolio of services, not devices,” writes Cliff Maldonado of BayStreet.
That’s not to say that AT&T’s giving up making money on selling and financing phones — it’s just taking fewer risks by not bringing in phones that it believes aren’t likely to succeed.
Ma Bell’s one-time monopoly on carrier-tied iPhone sales didn’t get good follow-ons in the Nokia Lumia 1020, the Amazon Fire and HTC First. Meanwhile, Verizon has expanded from its proud DROID line to claim the carrier-backed Google Pixel all to itself and has claimed great traffic because of it.
Of course, money not spent on attaining and showcasing devices can be used to help promote the company’s TV services. There’s also an $85 billion deal for Time Warner to finance.
But AT&T’s streamlining has also left OEMs like LeEco, HTC and Huawei out in the cold — the prior philosophy did allow for AT&T to take risks on new phone brands and has opened them up to the US market at large. Even LG and Kyocera will suffer as “second-tier” OEMs competing for the smaller sects of the Death Star’s audience.