Ina Fried

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ATT’s Chief Marketing Officer on How the Company Has Found (Android) Religion

Although AT&T has dabbled with Android in the past, the carrier is now dead serious about making sure that it has a range of products running Google’s operating system.

While many will observe that the company’s interest in Android appears to be timed closely with the loss of its iPhone exclusivity, the company said the strategy shift has been in the works for many months and has more to do with the fact that the company is moving to faster networks and needs devices that will really tap their power.

“They create highly functional, highly capable smartphones that run really well with our network,” Chief Marketing Officer David Christopher said. “That hits the sweet spot of our network.”

Whatever the case, AT&T has committed to having a dozen new Android products this year, including both phones and tablets.

The company introduced the first three phones at January’s Consumer Electronics Show, where it showed off Android smartphones from Samsung and HTC, as well as the intriguing Motorola Atrix, which is a powerful Android phone on its own, but can also plug into a laptop dock and power a full desktop Web browsing experience. It is also trying to break new pricing ground in selling the HTC Inspire for just $99 with a new contract.

However, there’s more to the strategy than just interesting devices at low prices. Christopher said AT&T is committed to working more closely with phone makers and Google.

“The Atrix is the best example of that,” he said. “We got involved very early in development of that product with Motorola and Google.”

However, the company isn’t looking to do all kinds of work to customize Android.

“We don’t think we have to control every element of the smartphone at all,” he said. “Our strategy has been more to partner smartly and add value where we think we have the strongest assets to bring to bear.”

Christopher pointed to location services, such as a feature that helps keep tabs on family members, as an example of where the company sees investment paying off. Carrier billing for apps and services is another area where the company has tried to lead, he said.

While many of the 12 Android devices planned for 2011 are phones, some will also be tablets, Christopher said, including the Motorola Xoom that was announced at CES. However, Christopher won’t say when that device–which is headed soon to Verizon–will make it to AT&T.

Christopher said the tablet arena is still wide open and that the company is looking far and wide in terms of which devices to offer. In addition to the iPad–which AT&T already carries–and the Android devices, other device makers such as Research in Motion and Hewlett-Packard are taking aim at the space.

“There’s going to be tablet innovation happening across the industry,” Christopher said. “Over time, I think the market will choose.”

In the meantime, Christopher said, the company will follow the same strategy it has taken with phones–offer lots of options.

“There are others as well,” he said, suggesting there are some other brands that could also find their way onto the company’s shelves. “We are casting a very wide net.”

AT&T also wants to find ways to get customers to have multiple devices running on its network. The company has taken a step toward that with the introduction of a new mobile hotspot plan that offers more data to customers who are sharing their phone’s data connection with other devices, either directly or over Wi-Fi.

But more can be done, Christopher said.

Among the options would be to have some sort of pool plan, where a customer could share data across multiple devices. Christopher said that is among many pricing possibillites that AT&T is considering: “That is one that potentially is interesting.”

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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google