Why AT&T's CEO is flat-out wrong about Android

By JR Raphael (@jr_raphael)

ATT Android

Randall, Randall, Randall. AT&T's CEO has a habit of getting himself in hot water when he talks about his company's network, and with his latest remarks about Android, he's managed to make himself look like a fool yet again.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson (who may or may not actually be Stephen Colbert) was speaking at a recent tech conference in California when he took a question about the timing of Android upgrades. An audience member asked why it sometimes takes so long for Google's OS updates to reach Android devices.

Stephenson's response:

Google determines what platform gets the newest releases and when. A lot of times, that's a negotiated arrangement and so that's something we work at hard. We know that's important to our customers.

Guess what, Randall? You're wrong. Google makes each Android upgrade available to manufacturers, carriers, and anyone else who wants it at the same time, right after its initial flagship device release. (That's how the whole "open source" thing works, ya know.) Delayed rollouts are typically the result of manufacturers taking their time tweaking and modifying the software (also part of the whole "open source" thing, for better or for worse) and then carriers performing tests and tweaks of their own. 

Need some evidence? Look no further than Google's response to Randall Stephenson's remarks. In a statement issued to tech blog 9to5Google.com, the company said the following:

Mr. Stephenson's carefully worded quote caught our attention and frankly we don't understand what he is referring to. Google does not have any agreements in place that require a negotiation before a handset launches.  Google has always made the latest release of Android available as open source at source.android.com as soon as the first device based on it has launched. This way, we know the software runs error-free on hardware that has been accepted and approved by manufacturers, operators and regulatory agencies such as the FCC. We then release it to the world.

Manufacturers like Motorola and Sony have published insights into how they handle Android upgrades, and their accounts match Google's explanation to a tee. Even with Google's own flagship devices, delays in Android upgrade rollouts appear to be the result of carrier inefficiency

Of course, AT&T's CEO showing how poorly he understands Android should come as no surprise: From the beginning, the carrier has delivered disappointment after disappointment to fans of the platform. For years, AT&T carried only a limited range of mediocre Android handsets -- a practice it changed only in light of losing its exclusive stronghold on the iPhone. What's more, AT&T long insisted on locking its Android phones down in order to control what apps users could and couldn't install.

Amidst all of that, Stephenson had the nerve to grandstand about the need for carrier openness, taking shots at Apple for requiring its devices to use only its own App Store and saying he wanted AT&T to be the "most open" network in the world. (I'm pretty sure that last bit had to be part of some elaborate Opposite Day gag; that's really the only way it makes sense.)

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AT&T has been the least reliable carrier for Android upgrades from the start. If the carrier is still gunning for that "Worst Company Ever" award, it's doing one hell of a job. Otherwise, its CEO would be well-advised to spend less time spreading ignorant statements and more time working to learn how Android actually works -- and how he can create a better experience for his customers.

[Android 4.0 upgrade list: When's your device getting ICS?]

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. You can find him on Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

Article copyright 2012 JR Raphael. All rights reserved.

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