SAN JOSE, Calif. The president of emerging devices at AT&T Inc. sees a wide variety of wireless devices in the future, and the carrier is helping OEMs design them.
"We are close to 90 percent penetration [of cellphones] in the U.S., so as we look out to the next big opportunity we see enabling everything for wireless as the next big step," said Glenn Lurie, president of emerging devices for AT&T's wireless group.
AT&T has sold services for notebooks via external or embedded cellular data cards for years. In December, it launched its first program for netbooks, subsidizing an Acer system for $99. It is now selling Acer and Dell netbooks in its own retail stories in two U.S. cities.
That's just a beginning for Lurie's group that expects to help design and certify a wide variety of netbooks, e-books, portable navigation systems and even cameras enabled for location-based services.
"Netbooks or mini-laptops are a tremendous opportunity and mobile Internet devices with 4- or 5-inch screens will be like smart phone on steroids and have some play in the short term," said Lurie.
"With the success of the Amazon Kindle, we think there will be many, many more e-books coming very quickly to compete with it," he said. "And there were some 20 million portable nav devices sold in U.S. last year, but almost none of them are able to connect to Web," he added
Lurie's group includes "a product development team with a whole bunch of engineers to help [OEMs] with their design and our certification process," he said. "We can even hook them up with the right chip sets, so we are right in the middle of that design process--many of them are building their first wireless design with us," he added.
A wide variety of new netbooks are on the way, said Lurie. Microsoft reported netbooks made up ten percent of otherwise slumping PC sales in the first three months of 2009.
"There are a lot of people who will dive in and build netbooks, including folks like cellular or wireless OEMs who never built a computer before," he said. "There will be a lot of innovation around what a netbook looks like and what the use cases are, and we will see this evolve very quickly," he added.
Lurie said AT&T expects to offer ARM/Linux netbooks in addition to this current x86/Windows models just as it offers Windows Mobile, Symbian and Apple smart phones today. He also expressed interest in cloud-based application services that some designers say will be an important driver for simple, low cost ARM/Linux netbooks.
Use models for e-books will also evolve quickly, he predicted.
"People get stuck on the idea that it's an e-book, but it's really an e-reader, so it will be your morning newspaper and you will have subscriptions with multiple newspapers and magazines," he said. "With larger 10- to 12- inch screens and built-in Bluetooth it could also link to other kinds of devices and be used in other ways," he added.
Lurie also manages AT&T's relationship with Apple to sell the iPhone in the U.S.
"We knew this [handset] would drive innovation in the industry," he said. "I see some similarities in device space where I think we will see a lot of innovation wars," he added.