AT&T exec: Don't count out Microsoft or RIM in smartphone race

An AT&T executive talked up Apple's iPhone 4S and AT&T's launch, but also spent a lot of time giving Microsoft Windows Phone and Windows 8 props.

Glenn Lurie, president of emerging devices, resales and partnerships at AT&T, sounds a lot like a Hollywood executive: He pretty much loves everyone. All partners---Apple, RIM, Samsung, Google and Microsoft etc.---are "terrific."

Speaking at a Morgan Stanley investment conference this morning, Lurie garnered a few headlines when he said that AT&T's churn rate remains stable even as Verizon and Sprint compete to sell the iPhone. However, AT&T's churn rates aren't exactly news---the wireless carrier has held its own as Apple diversified carriers to Verizon and then Sprint. "Our customers were very loyal, our churn has not moved at all," said Lurie.

Although Lurie talked up Apple's iPhone 4S and AT&T's launch, he spent a lot of time on Microsoft and its mobile plans. In a nutshell, Lurie thinks Microsoft can make a smartphone play in the U.S. and court CIOs in the enterprise. AT&T can get to 80 percent of sales coming from smartphones, said Lurie, who added that a third ecosystem will push those penetration rates.

Related: Nokia planning Windows 8 powered tablet debut in mid-2012 | Verizon CEO: There will be a legit No. 3 mobile OS

It's worth noting that carriers are dying for a third major smartphone platform. Why? Carriers don't want to solely rely on Apple and Google. Simply put, there's a rooting interest for RIM or Microsoft to step up and diversify carriers. Even with that caveat Lurie sounded decidedly upbeat about Microsoft.

Here are a few quotes from Lurie's talk:

"iOS has done well, Android has done well. I am actually a fan of the Windows devices. I am also very excited about Windows 8 on the tablet devices going forward."

And.

"I believe that Mr. Ballmer and the Windows folks are going to be aggressive as to what they go do, whether it's Windows Phone or Windows 8. The one thing that Microsoft has is they own the desktop and so if they can get eloquent and execute well around Windows 8 I believe that puts them back in the game in a big way."

And on Windows 8 tablets:

"The place that I think there is a lot of excitement, at least from a carrier perspective, is that today a tablet is viewed as an ancillary device. So if you are a CIO of a large company like yours, right, you go in there and say, great, I want to buy all of my guys and gals tablets. In today's environment and today's economy they got a laptop and a smartphone why am I buying a tablet?

I think the real big breakthrough is going to be when that tablet replaces the laptop, and I think we are starting to see some of that today. Many of you in the room may have not traveled with your laptop for a couple of days and you bring your tablet with you. I really believe Windows 8 has a very, very big opportunity to change that space and allow those CIOs to say, look, so now I am going buy you a tablet."

What about RIM? Lurie is hoping RIM succeeds too. "RIM is getting a lot of grief right now. I think when you look at RIM and what they have, you look at the QNX technology they acquired," said Lurie. "I wouldn't count them out as well. RIM still holds a nice share in the US. There is still a very, very nice share of RIM customers on the AT&T network."

In the end, Lurie just wants more competition. "We love competition. Our goal is to deliver the best thing to our customers and make sure they have what they want to solve their needs. But I do believe you are going to see a bit of a dogfight going forward between those OS players," he said.

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