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8/29/2008
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Smartphone Apps For The Rest Of Us

Even if you use Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon -- or don't have an iPhone for your AT&T connection -- you can still get games, music, location-based services, and other mobile content on your phone. Here's how.

Sure, iPhone users have access to the iPhone Apps Store, but where are the rest of us supposed to get great content for our cell phones? Turns out, all over the place.

Long before the iPhone Apps Store was a gleam in Steve Jobs' eye, each major wireless network operator offered up numerous third-party applications to their customers through a variety of storefronts.

The carriers have their own developer programs, application testing procedures, and delivery systems to get apps into the hands of users. InformationWeek took the time to speak to the carriers and get the scoop on how you can find games, music, and location-based services applications for your phone.

AT&T

"We think the Apps store is great for iPhone users and everyone else," said Emily Soelberg, director of applications with AT&T Mobility. "One of the big challenges is that people don't know that their phones can download apps. So the visibility of the iPhone store has been great for us. We've had an apps store for several years that supports over 100 phones, and we have thousands of content titles. It is really exciting to see a big brand like Apple create awareness in the market for things you can do with your phone."

AT&T customers can download ringtones, games, graphics, music, applications, and other content through the AT&T MEdia Mall (available on the handset through the MEdia Net portal and online at www.mediamall.wireless.att.com). Additionally, AT&T indexes thousands of applications for availability through the MEdia Net search function. Its customers are able to download virtually any application to their handset without restriction.

Unlike the iPhone Apps Store, which requires an iTunes account that is tethered to a credit card, most applications available through AT&T's MEdiaNet portal are billed directly to your wireless account. This is important because most kids can't use a credit card, but they can be authorized to charge things to a wireless account (with Mom and Dad's consent, of course). In order to ward off sticker shock, "We have a clear process to inform customers as to what they are buying through Media Mall," said Soelberg. "We warn people about their phone bills if high usage apps are downloaded."

AT&T sees social networking as the up-and-coming big category for applications. It has made an effort to seek out developers and applications that it believes will be valuable to its customers.

It also sees a big rise looming in the location-based services space. "More and more phones have GPS," said Soelberg. "Introducing networking capabilities and LBS-based applications will be a big growth area for AT&T." Soelberg noted that AT&T is actively evaluating companies that offer LBS applications and is trying to get those applications to market quickly.

AT&T’s overall approach is to let customers choose from dozens of devices and thousands of applications so they get the most use from their phones, and to give developers the tools they need to create and market their own applications.

"I think apps on phones are going to see a lot of growth over the next few years,” said Soelberg. “Phones are becoming mini PCs. You can access all this information, and it drives a lot value for people.”

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