AT&T might be readying a phone that could represent a blow to Google’s ecosystem. The Information (subscription only) is reporting that the carrier is developing a new phone that would be powered by a forked version of Android, which means that it probably won’t include Google apps such as Gmail, Maps, YouTube, and others.
According to the report, AT&T is in talks with Cyanogen to develop the software. Although it would be based on Android, it would be a completely different version of it, similar to what Amazon does with the Fire OS. This means that it would have its own curated app store.
Cyanogen already develops an operating system based on Android for manufacturers in emerging markets, but it’s unclear if AT&T will use that software or a custom version of it.
According to sources, AT&T is also working with ZTE to build the device. ZTE, based in China, isn’t too well known here in the U.S., but the company makes a considerable quantity of Android phones. Interestingly enough, the U.S. imposed trade sanctions on the company earlier this month when it violated restrictions on exporting American goods to Iran and other specified nations. However, the U.S plans to lift those sanctions on a temporary basis.
Cyanogen already made it public that it’s going after Google. Last year, CEO Kirt McMaster said he wants to take Android away from Google and make it more open than ever. The company’s plan is to make it easy for manufacturers in emerging markets to produce a low cost smartphone without the need to develop software. A deal with AT&T would thus be huge for the company.
However, devices like the ones that use Cyanogen haven’t been successful here in the U.S. because Google apps and the Google Play Store aren’t made available on them. Just take a look at how badly the Amazon Fire Phone performed for further evidence.
So assuming the report is true, it’s unclear what AT&T might be thinking. It’s possible that it’s looking for a phone to package with DirecTV customers, or maybe it simply wants to take a run at Google, just like Cyanogen.
It’s unclear how far along AT&T might be in the process or how serious it is in releasing such a phone. For now, we would take this one with a huge dose of salt until either more evidence leaks or AT&T says something official.