AT&T brass talks big on future of iPhone

Editor’s Note: The following article is reprinted from the Today @ PC World blog at PCWorld.com.

When TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington asked AT&T iPhone chief Ralph de la Vega what the iPhone of the future will look like, he got a little more than he bargained for. The two spoke in front of a large audience at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco this week.

De la Vega let loose with a laundry list of future applications and usage scenarios for the device, which included the following:

Before the iPhone wakes you up in the morning with its alarm clock, De la Vega says, it will have already loaded all of your daily news feeds onto the phone. It will also have already sent a wireless message to your coffee maker to get the coffee ready. While you’re sitting there drinking your coffee, he says, you might decide that you’d rather read your news on the TV screen; so with a wave of the device toward the TV, de la Vega says, you’ll send your news feeds wirelessly from the phone to the TV for reading.

Now you leave the house, and use your iPhone to lock the door on the way out. You get in the car. The iPhone starts your car. On the way to work, the iPhone continues reading your news to you using its text-to-speech function.

Later on, at your office, the iPhone initiates a conference call between you and two potential customers in Japan. On the call, when you speak English, the iPhone translates it to Japanese so that your potential customers can understand you. When they answer in Japanese, the iPhone converts their speech into English so you can understand them.

De la Vega says there’s a lot of experimentation and testing going on in AT&T’s labs to integrate the iPhone with AT&T’s fiber optic-based IPTV service, U-Verse. The iPhone will become a remote control for the service, a scenario in which you’ll use the device (and its on-screen keyboard) to search for programming in U-Verse (or presumably from the open internet), playing it either on the TV itself or on the iPhone. De la Vega didn’t go too much further into this, but we’re assuming that once the iPhone is integrated with the U-Verse TV service, the U-Verse DVR will become more and more like TiVo and the iPhone will control it either from the couch, or from across the country.

Some of this sounds pretty far-flung to me, and if this were some start-up company talking about these “exciting new plans,” I’d probably take it with a grain of salt. But in my experience, AT&T plays it pretty close to the vest on its future plans, and usually does what it says it will do, eventually.

Arrington asked De la Vega if AT&T is working on launching an Android phone. De la Vega stared silently out into the audience. Arrington: “Just blink once if the answer’s yes.” But De la Vega did not bite.

Arrington asked De la Vega what A&T plans to do when its exclusive iPhone arrangement with Apple expires in 2010. De la Vega passed on that question too. “I’m not blinking,” he said.

During the Q&A, an audience member asked De la Vega what AT&T planned to do about areas like New York City where the 3G network coverage is spotty. Beyond its normal network upgrade process, AT&T says it will begin using a new swath of 850MHz spectrum to deliver a clearer, stronger signal in densely populated areas. De la Vega also says his company will be market testing femtocell technology in some markets in 2009; femtocell devices connect to wireless broadband networks indoors and help boost the connections of wireless devices like the iPhone.

In other iPhone news, AT&T says tethering is coming soon to an iPhone near you.

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