CTIA: Lunch With AT&T and Surface

AT&T held a media event earlier, the star of which was undoubtedly the Microsoft Surface unit it showed off. AT&T is initially rolling the devices out in four cities, but hopes to expand them across its retail channel. AT&T’s implementation of this is pretty damn cool: shoppers can set a device on the Surface’s, uh, surface, and they get presented with specs, services, features, and all other sorts of info in a — get this — easy-to-understand, and even fun, way. Here’s a video of the demo, showing a Samsung Blackjack II:

Obviously there’s some straightforward “wow” here, but where things get really cool is how the system could be extended to sell mobile content and services. Selling mobile content through the physical retail channel has always been a little bit strange. But with surface, phone buyers could be presented with all sorts of compatible content, apps, and services on the big touchscreen as a part of the sales process, then it could be provisioned to the device so they walk out with a new phone that’s full of new content and cool apps as well. Of course, that’s just another version of the operator deck, really, but one step at a time, I guess…

Some other interesting bits from the event:

– AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega gave kudos to his team for rolling out its $99/month unlimited voice plan the same day that Verizon announced its unlimited plan. That came directly after he said, in response to a question from a reporter, that he felt no need to follow Sprint’s plan to offer data and everything else in its unlimited plan — making it clear that Sprint’s not perceived as much of a competitive threat.

– de la Vega said that AT&T had talked to Google about Android, and he sounded pretty impressed with it. He said AT&T’s main concern was that Android was “truly open” — meaning that AT&T would be able to customize it and add its own code and applications. I imagine that’s what plenty of other operators are going to do as well, potentially rendering Android as little more than yet another operator-customized UI.

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