AT&T Kicks Off CES With Sponsored Data, Drive Studio, Asus PadFone X

At CES, on the third day of its Developer Summit, AT&T made two major, very developer-friendly announcements, gave away $50,000 and introduced a new phone form factor.

AT&T had a busy first day to say the least at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

Taking to a stage at the Palms Jan. 6, AT&T introduced a controversial new plan that lets content providers pick up the data bill for visitors to their sites, apps or services. It announced the upcoming availability of the LG Flex, the first curved smartphone to reach the United States.

Then it introduced its first-ever Asus smartphone, which happens to transition into a 9-inch Full HD tablet. It added 26 new markets to its Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G network bringing the number of people covered to 270 million. It made a world-first announcement involving its connected car endeavors and in another more that is somewhat related to all the other announcements it aggressively celebrated the developers who showed up at its hackathon and encouraged others to join them.

“We spend countless hours listening to what our developers want,” said David Christopher, CMO of AT&T Mobility, as he garnished his morning presentation with developer app contest details.

AT&T had kicked off its annual Developer Summit Jan. 4, and for two days participants brainstormed and developed app entries. AT&T then chose the top three in two categories—wearables and the best use of the AT&T API platform—and on stage Jan. 6 the top six were given quick introductions and put up for an audience vote.

The winner of the first category was a team that created a Bluetooth-enabled SafeNecklace that kids can wear during a field trip and that will sync with an app on the teacher’s smartphone—a modern solution to frantic and frequent head counts. When the wearer of the necklace moves outside of a small, designated zone, an alert sounds.

“The cost to protect a child is less than a cafeteria lunch,” said the presenter.

The other winner was a location-based app, called M, that helps users avoid ATM fees (or obtain cash where there are no ATMs—think the Burning Man festival in Nevada's dusty Black Rock Desert, the crowd around a food truck at 1 a.m.) by finding someone nearby willing to lend a small amount of cash in return for instant repayment via a mobile app.

Each sleep-deprived group received a giant check for $25,000.

“We’re committed to continuing to evolve our API strategy,” Christopher said.

Additional support for that assertion came with the introduction of Sponsored Data, an offer to let companies pick up the data tab for visitors, so that they might stay longer or visit more frequently.

AT&T, in a special site for the offer, explains that it offers developers “new ways to reach customers” and in a “targeted and flexible way.”

Sponsored Data content within a site can be a video, an audio file, a PDF file, an image format on a Web page or more. (Consumer advocacy groups are extremely concerned about what such an offer will mean for online competition and the ideal of an open Internet.)

AT&T Drive Studio

AT&T also used the CES stage to introduce Drive Studio, a “first-of-its-kind connected car center” in Atlanta, and AT&T Drive, a global automotive platform that will allow automakers and developers to create their own customized connected car solutions.

“We view [the connected car], 100 percent, as a global opportunity,” said Glenn Lurie, president of Emerging Enterprises and Partnerships at AT&T Mobility. “We view the car as a smartphone on wheels.”

Drive Studio is a 5,000-square-foot, end-to-end “next-generation garage,” that AT&T said people from around the world can visit to “come create the future of connected cars.” The facility includes garage bays, where development teams can try out their products, a speech lab for working on speech-recognition-based solutions, a showroom, conference facilities and more.

“Our goal is to be the best carrier for connected car innovation in the world,” Lurie said.

Plus Smartphones, of Course

In October, LG introduced the tantalizingly unique G Flex—a smartphone with a vertically curving 6-inch display—but offered no word about whether it might come to the United States.

AT&T, however, announced that it will offer the G Flex sometime in the first quarter of this year—though it left some questions, like the price, unanswered.

Deeper into the presentation, AT&T made its final device announcement, bringing Asus CEO Jerry Shen to the stage to show off the PadPhone X, the first Asus smartphone in the AT&T portfolio.

“It’s the result of many years of hard work. The design is very elegant,” Shen said. “It’s the best of what Asus has to offer.”

Shen then enjoyed a ta-da moment, pulling out the “dock” for the device, a 9-inch full HD display that the phone clicks into the back of, turning it into a tablet.

“The PadFone X is first of its kind in the U.S.,” Jeff Bradley, who stood alongside Shen on stage, said in a statement. “It combines leading technology, a beautiful design and a remarkably seamless application experience … The magic of it is that the experience is not just bigger, it’s better than on a traditional smartphone.”

The PadFone X is also notable for being capable of accessing LTE-Advanced technology and HD Voice—a technology AT&T doesn’t offer yet but said it will later this year. “We have big surprises ahead,” CEO Ralph de la Vega said in closing.

T-Mobile began supporting HD Voice on some smartphones in January 2013.

“Why don’t you just bring back the rotary dialer while you’re at it, @ATT?!” T-Mobile CEO John Legere Tweeted shortly after the announcement. “A little too slow on the #copying!”

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