AT&T Takes the Fun Out of Android: iPhone Prisoners have New Cell Mates

by Matt Klassen on June 17, 2010

I never would have thought that I would consider iPhone users on AT&T’s struggling network to be the lucky ones, but at least they don’t have AT&T screwing around with the actual phones themselves. But with AT&T’s iPhone prisoners… err, customers in a perpetual state of near-riotous discontent over the company’s network woes and Apple’s closed application agreement, clearly AT&T had to do something to put all its mobile users on even ground, and unfortunately that meant screwing around with Android.

In three days AT&T customers across the country will be able to get their hands on the telecommunication giant’s second foray into the world of Android devices, the HTC Aria. If you were hoping for a powerful Android device that many consider a strong competitor to the iPhone and other industry leading devices, well, you’re in luck, as the HTC Aria is a competently powerful device; if you were hoping that AT&T wouldn’t screw it up; well, I have some bad news.

One of the greatest strengths of the Android platform is its openness, basically its ability to run third party applications and programs, or in layman’s terms, the ability to let you do whatever you want; and most carriers recognize that it would be foolish to screw that up for Android users, but I guess AT&T never got that memo.

When the Motorola Backflip was released in early March, the tech world was surprised that AT&T had imposed Apple-like restrictions on its newest device, not allowing users to download applications outside of the official handset application store. At the time this meant that users would have no access to certain applications in beta testing stages, or access to many innovative and useful applications not currently available at the official Google App store.

Many had hoped that with the release of the HTC Aria, the second Android-based device on its network, AT&T would relinquish its role as Android gatekeeper, but the thing about having a hope like that is that it’s based solely on logic and reason, something AT&T knows little about.  

Like the Backflip, users of the HTC Aria will receive an error message when attempting to download non-official applications on their mobile device telling them to allow downloads from “Unknown Sources.” For most Android devices the solution to this error is as simple as going into the phones settings and enabling the setting, “Unknown Sources: Allow Install of Non-Market applications.” The problem being that on AT&T’s Android devices this setting is not available, having been removed by AT&T itself.

Quite frankly, decisions like this make me wonder about the overall competence and mental health of the executives at America’s second largest wireless carrier. Why would AT&T want to meddle with one of the most innovative and open features of the Android OS?

But upon closer inspection, perhaps the reason behind such meddling is simple; it’s designed to make Android customers as angry and dissatisfied at AT&T’s iPhone users. The latter have to contend with both Apple’s closed application development system and AT&T’s general network incompetence, and it would certainly be a disaster for AT&T if its loyal iPhone prisoners saw freedom in an equally powerful and innovative Android device—a  situation that would surely spell the end of AT&T’s exclusivity agreement with Apple. So while I’m dismayed that AT&T is taking the fun out of Android, at least Android users have the option of jumping ship for another network, leaving the despondent iPhone prisoners forever chained to AT&T.

Come on folks! It just wouldn’t be fair if Android users were happy, AT&T had to do something!

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