Surf the Web, AT&T Style

April 21, 2008

David Krantz, VP of Business Development at AT&T recently presented a new web browser called “AT&T Pogo”. The CoreBrand interactive group is already testing web solutions on a dozen or more web browsers for our clients to make sure our projects are up to brand and web standards. So, my first reaction: “Oh boy, just what we need, yet another web browser!” (With each of the leading browsers having its share of quirks and proprietary standards, it is already a challenge for web developers to create a consistent experience across platforms.) And my second reaction: What is AT&T up to? Is this an effort to continue to shake off its phone company heritage and more closely tie its brand to the promise of IP? Or are they, as they say, truly looking to create a better web experience for everybody?

A web browser from AT&T?
It’s not unusual these days to see companies launch products that are outside of their home turf. However most of the time this happens through brand licensing or other partnership arrangements. A recent example is Levi’s jeans. They just released a cell phone in France (see screenshot).

I have to admit, it seems a bit weird that AT&T is entering the web browser market, a market known for little or no direct financial returns and fierce competition from Microsoft and Mozilla. On the other hand, AT&T has a history of creating software. One of the oldest software success stories is the UNIX operating system that was created by Bell Labs in the late 1960’s and continues to live on to this day in Linux and Apple OSX operating systems. It appears Pogo is coming directly from AT&T; not from some other company that is unknown and just leverages the AT&T brand. Plus, AT&T has been very active on the web, creating portals such as www.attblueroom.com. And don’t forget that iPhone (available in the US exclusively from AT&T) uses iTunes for activation and phone management. Perhaps AT&T has learned a few things from Apple, aiming to use Pogo as a platform to manage cell phone or other AT&T services. A browser can do a lot more these days than just display HTML pages, as Google has shown us, with innovative products such as Gmail and Google Maps.

Levis' Cell Phone Poster

What’s in it for AT&T?
Creating quality software takes time and money. A big brand such as AT&T can’t afford to release a sloppy product.  News travels fast today and poor performance could damage the AT&T brand and slow down the launch of other new products. David Krantz states in his product introduction the motivation behind the Pogo browser is to create a compelling product that will be used by everybody. No more, no less. Could AT&T’s motives here be so altruistic? Call me cynical, but I just don’t think so. AT&T is currently the leading broadband provider in the US.  And, fueled by their recent wi-fi deal with Starbucks link AT&T is the largest wi-fi provider in the US, too. A new browser not only offers the potential for greater control over the AT&T customer experience, it can help push the AT&T brand over the hump – transforming it once and for all from yesterday’s phone company to tomorrow’s IP company.

Can Pogo compete with Internet Explorer and Firefox?
Pogo is currently in a private beta phase, but the early specs and demos suggest a browser that could compete with today’s market leaders. AT&T took one shortcut: instead of developing a brand new web browser from the ground up Pogo is using the Mozilla Firefox engine. This means that any website that works in Firefox should work just as well in Pogo. This is good news for web developers because we won’t have to alter our code to fit all the different web browsers. AT&T added a few visual enhancements to spice up the basic Firefox experience. Here are a few features:
• Multi-home-page feature called “Springboard”
• Visual history viewer (see screenshot)
• Visual tabs
• Mouse gestures for navigation

AT&T Pogo Webbrowser 

Pogo, isn’t that a gaming website owned by Electronic Arts?
Yup, you guessed right! Go to www.pogo.com and you will find one of the most popular online gaming sites. Pogo.com has been around for years and is one the premier products from Electronic Arts.
Although AT&T Pogo and EA Pogo are not in the same product category, I am pretty sure EA won’t be happy about AT&T’s name choice and a letter from the lawyers might be on way.
AT&T, maybe it’s time to find a better product name?

Releasing a web browser today is a bold and brave move. And, for the nation’s largest wireless, broadband and wi-fi provider, it is a curious one.  That all said, the proof may well be in the product itself. Is this a 20th century brand in over its head? Or is this the long-awaited coming of age of one of the world’s most powerful communications brands? When Pogo is released, we’ll find out.  Then, give it a try and judge for yourself whether AT&T has delivered the web community a rocket or a bomb.

Links:
Product website
Product demo and video

 

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