T-Mobile launches iPhone challenger

T-Mobile sees its second Android phone, the MyTouch 3G, as its best hope to take on Apple's iPhone on AT&T.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
4 min read

NEW YORK--T-Mobile USA is betting big on its second Android smartphone, the MyTouch 3G, as it officially launches the device making it its flagship smartphone to compete against Apple's iPhone on AT&T.

T-Mobile USA

The company announced the MyTouch 3G, which is essentially the same phone as the Google Ion or the HTC Magic, last month. And on Wednesday T-Mobile made the device available for pre-orders to its existing customers. The device will be generally available starting August 5.

The MyTouch is the second smartphone the carrier has introduced that uses Google's open-source mobile operating system, Android. T-Mobile introduced the world's first Google Android phone, called the G1, last fall. And so far the company claims it has sold more than 1 million devices.

Thinner and slightly smaller than the G1, the MyTouch features a large 3.2-inch touch screen with 3G and Wi-Fi support. The device comes loaded with several applications including integrated Google Apps, but it also can access the Android Market, a virtual application storefront where users can have their pick of some 5,000 applications for downloading.

Executives at an event here Wednesday made no bones about pitting the MyTouch against Apple's popular iPhone, which is sold exclusively for AT&T's network in the U.S.

"My hope and expectation is that this device will be compared to the iPhone," said Denny Post, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at T-Mobile USA.

It's easy to see the similarities between the phones. Like the iPhone, the MyTouch has a touch screen with a virtual keyboard. And it has access to a lot of very cool applications.

But executives also point out what they consider important differences between the MyTouch and the iPhone.

Personalization is the big buzzword the T-Mobile marketing folks have used in launching the new phone. They claim no two MyTouches will be the same since users can customize their devices to tailor their own lifestyles and needs. The customization goes beyond the ability to download different applications, and also includes the ability to change the background on the phone's home screen and the ability to organize application icons on the home screen.

While iPhone users can drag and drop icons and customize their sleep mode screens, the home screen essentially looks the same on all iPhones.

Whether or not this differentiator is a big deal to consumers is yet to be seen. Another possibly more important differentiator is the fact that the Android software on the MyTouch allows users to easily switch between multiple applications that are open on the device. The software also allows information from one application to be fed or viewed in another application. For example, there is a little user bar at the top of the phone's screen that shows the temperature and weather. It also has alerts for new e-mails and text messages as they come into the phone, without interrupting the application that is going.

Of course, the MyTouch is not the only smartphone that offers this kind of application multitasking. The Palm Pre announced earlier this summer for Sprint Nextel's network has gotten high marks for its ability to multitask. But Andrew Sherrard, vice president at T-Mobile, says that what sets the MyTouch apart from the Pre is the Android Market mobile application store, which already has 5,000 applications.

At the heart of the MyTouch is the open platform Android software, which was developed by Google. And because it uses the same operating system developed for the G1, the features and functionality available on the MyTouch are not much different from the G1.

And it's likely that other Android devices that will be launched on T-Mobile's network and other operators' networks later this year will also be similar in terms of functionality because they use the same operating system.

Watch this: T-Mobile myTouch 3G

But instead of lumping multiple Android devices together, T-Mobile will be focusing much of its marketing on the MyTouch as its flagship device. This makes sense from a competitive standpoint as other wireless operators highlight their own exclusive handsets. Apple has the iPhone. And Sprint has the new Palm Pre. Now T-Mobile will focus its marketing on the MyTouch.

The G1, the first Android phone to come to market, launched in November last year and has been a major success for the carrier. But the phone has mostly appealed to early adopters, Post said. The MyTouch will be targeted at the mass market.

"It will appeal to the same consumers that are interested in the iPhone," she said. "But the applications used on this phone won't be just for show. They won't simply be a novelty. Instead they will be very useful and purposeful."

As part of its push to make the MyTouch its premiere smartphone, T-Mobile has put extra effort into training retail staff to help new customers customize their phones and add new applications.

And even though the Android Market today is only a tenth the size of Apple's App Store, it's expected to grow rapidly as more Android devices come to market. And when that happens, Post says there will be a great need to help consumers to sift through the chaos and discover new applications.

"It will become increasingly important for us to recommend and help highlight applications we think consumers will find most useful," she said. "Customers need a guide to help them find useful apps, and move beyond simple novelties. So you will see us creating bundles for recommendations to make discovery easier."

But going up against the iPhone will not be an easy task as the latest version of the device, the iPhone 3GS, seems even hotter than previous generations. In its first weekend, Apple and AT&T sold more than 1 million units. But consumers are hungry for alternatives, and Post believes consumers will also be swayed by T-Mobile's value proposition. The carrier's unlimited data package is priced about $5 less per month than a comparable data package from AT&T.