AT&T's lower-end feature phones are becoming smarter. On Monday, the carrier announced it will offer "smartphone-like experiences" on four of its new, less-expensive models.
The new phones, part of the company's Quick Messaging Devices lineup, will be among the first at AT&T to receive the new suite of consumer data services as the company tries to add value to its lower end by making its data services as valuable, or more so, than the phones themselves.
"Quick Messaging Devices are among our most popular and fastest-growing phones," said David Christopher, chief marketing officer of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets. These phones, he added, will now offer "cutting-edge services that enhance" the overall user experience.
The first new phone to offer these services is the Samsung Strive, which is $19.99 with a two-year contract, and it will be followed by the Samsung Sunburst, Pantech Link, and Pantech Pursuit. The services include an online address book, next-generation messaging, and sharing of photos and videos.
The online address book enables users to automatically sync contacts between a handset and a PC. Contacts from other web-based address books, like e-mail accounts, can be imported and, since the address book lives in the cloud, the information is always backed up.
With next-generation messaging, users have the ability to send a text message to a group. They also get a threaded-conversations format, a consolidated inbox, and multimedia display, such as putting photos into messages.
Using mobile share, customers can use their handset to share videos and photos between their home computer, social-networking sites, friends and personal online storage. The online address book and advanced messaging are free, while mobile share requires a monthly or per-use fee.
Pressure for Data Use
A key value of the cloud-based services is that the user's personal content isn't lost, even if the phone is. For instance, the contact information can be repopulated from the online storage on a replacement phone.
Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said AT&T has basically defined its Quick Messaging Devices as feature phones with a full QWERTY keyboard.
AT&T, he said, "found out that consumers like sending messaging with a QWERTY keyboard," and the company was able to accommodate that, since "it doesn't cost them that much more to put more keys on a phone."
Like Verizon Wireless and other companies, Greengart said, AT&T is "under a lot of pressure to expand customers' use of data in the lower-end phones," because of lower prices for voice services.
He noted that AT&T knows owners of high-end phones will pay for data, but the challenge has been convincing customers at the lower end to pay for data. The answer, Greengart said, is to focus on text messaging.