AT&T Now Allows Non-Market Apps on Android Cells

Posted by at 3:10 pm on May 6, 2011

AT&T with the launch of the Infuse 4G last night at least partly reversed a longstanding policy on Android phones that had drawn criticism from those hoping to switch away from the iPhone. Review units given out at the event had the option to load apps from “unknown sources” beyond Android Market that had previously been purposefully removed on all AT&T Android hardware. It wasn’t evident whether this was specific to the Infuse 4G or a broad policy, but as one of AT&T’s flagship phones would be more likely to represent the carrier’s overall attitude.

The policy was instituted as soon as Android phones began selling through AT&T under the guise of security, though this justification was thrown into doubt from the outset. Blocking non-Market apps may have helped prevent malware but also conveniently prevented VoIP or unofficial tethering apps that would let users reduce their dependency on AT&T’s own plans. It may be less concerned now that it can monitor tethering and hotspot use to make these customers pay more regardless.

The earlier policy drew flak from fans and was often cited in arguments that Google was practicing a double standard, claiming openness versus the iPhone but letting carriers lock up Android devices as much or more than Apple did for its own models. Google VP Andy Rubin has claimed that dictating terms to carriers would contradict openness values but hasn’t had an answer to how end users would get the same level of control.

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