There’s been a lot of back and forth today about some comments AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson (yes, him again) made recently during a Q&A session. When an annoyed customer asked why it takes so long for AT&T to roll out new Android releases, Stephenson said the following:
Google determines what platform gets the newest releases and when. A lot of times, that’s a negotiated arrangement and that’s something we work at hard. We know that’s important to our customers. That’s kind of an ambiguous answer because I can’t give you a direct answer in this setting.
That’s the CEO of the nation’s second-largest carrier placing the blame solely on Google for the poor Android update timeliness. Obviously, Google is not going to be happy about that. So they gave the following response to 9to5 Google:
Mr. Stephenson’s carefully worded quote caught our attention and frankly we don’t understand what he is referring to. Google does not have any agreements in place that require a negotiation before a handset launches. Google has always made the latest release of Android available as open source at source.android.com as soon as the first device based on it has launched. This way, we know the software runs error-free on hardware that has been accepted and approved by manufacturers, operators and regulatory agencies such as the FCC. We then release it to the world.
So what’s going on here?
If you actually watch the video (embedded in the 9to5 Google post), my sense is that Stephenson is talking specifically about one of two things.
Either he means Google’s “flagship” handset launches. Those absolutely do require Google working with the OEM/carrier beforehand to get both the device and the new OS ready to go. The last one of these was the Galaxy Nexus which launched exclusively with Verizon, for example.
Or he could mean the Android Compatibility Program. That is, the certification a device must go through in order to be able to get the Google Play software license (in order to come with Google apps pre-installed). See more here.
It doesn’t seem like either of those are exactly the answers the audience member was looking for — he probably just wanted an easy answer as to why only a handful of devices have access to Ice Cream Sandwich months after launch — but that’s the one he got.
Google’s response can also be read two ways: that they really don’t understand what Stephenson could have meant. Or that they’re just being coy — playing dumb — to deflect something that is actually a real issue.
Stephenson’s comments out of context are a little hard to follow and perhaps poorly worded, but come on, they’re not that hard to follow when you think about it.
While it’s intriguing to think that the CEO of AT&T doesn’t understand how his own phones get updated, this is spin trying to make it seem as if the company that just got thrown under the bus is actually the one driving the bus.