AT&T Offers HTC Aria, But Still Dabbling in Android

AT&T is doubling its portfolio of Android smartphones with the addition of the HTC Aria. The Aria is a much more impressive device than the Motorola Backflip, but still falls short of what Android is capable of and seems to show that AT&T is dipping its toe in the water rather than diving into the deep end of the Android pool.

The AT&T Android portfolio is growing, but not by much and not with any cutting edge Android smartphones.
The Motorola Backflip, the Android smartphone with the unique screen-flipping form factor, was AT&T's initial foray into Android. However, even in March the Backflip was not in the same league as the Android smartphones available from Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile. The Backflip seemed more suitable for teen consumers than anything, and with a price and contract equivalent to the low-end iPhones it was a hard sell that essentially flopped.

With the Aria, AT&T is at least heading in the right direction. The Aria is an Android 2.1 device customized with HTC's Sense interface. Business professionals locked into AT&T and looking for alternatives to the iPhone, or anxious to join the Android invasion will appreciate having a more capable Android option.

However, the Aria is like getting last year's Android. Specs like the 600Mhz processor don't stack up very well against the current generation of cutting edge Android smartphones like the Sprint EVO 4G-- also developed by HTC. The Aria, which seems like an evolution of the HTC Hero, also may not make the cut to receive the upgrade to Android 2.2, a.k.a. "Froyo".

With the persistent rumors of the ever-impending end of iPhone exclusivity, it is understandable that AT&T should want to expand its smartphone portfolio to include Android. If and when exclusivity does end, and competitors like Verizon or Sprint also offer the iPhone, AT&T will need some other weapons in its arsenal to compel businesses to remain with, or switch to AT&T wireless service.

The AT&T Android portfolio is small and weak, though. The Motorola Backflip is simply not compelling--especially for business use. The HTC Aria might make a suitable Android smartphone for companies locked to AT&T, but it doesn't provide much incentive for new customers to commit to AT&T, and HTC Aria users will have Droid and EVO envy right out of the box.

What does AT&T have to lose by offering a top of the line Android smartphone like the HTC Droid Incredible or the HTC EVO 4G? A cutting edge Android smartphone might cut into sales of the iPhone, but they would all be sales to AT&T just the same--with the same contracts, monthly revenue, and early termination fees.

It seems that AT&T is only tentatively embracing Android. Perhaps it is concerned about upsetting the Apple cart too soon? The HTC Aria does expand the Android options with AT&T, but compared with the impending iPhone 4, and Android smartphones from AT&T competitors, it is lacking and implies that AT&T isn't fully committed to the Android platform.

You can follow Tony on his Facebook page , or contact him by email at tony_bradley@pcworld.com . He also tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW .

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