Android Central is reporting that the HTC Aria will be getting a bit of a lobotomy. You see, AT&T apparently hates the idea of sideloading apps. Sideloading means you can add apps that are not part of the regular Android marketplace through over the air download or via the USB cable on your computer. It’s for installing beta software, or software that’s only distributed through a developer’s site, and many of these are not as obscure as you’d think…
Just to give you a few examples, I was away on a business trip last week. While I was there, I received an email that the new Swype beta was out. I was able to download and install it during a break in meetings, and now I had a nice new stable install of my favorite keyboard.
Fast forward to later in the same trip. My plane was delayed on the runway, and while we were waiting for clearance to taxi out, I received an email from Kobo about the new Kobo Reader beta for Android. Again, just a few clicks and I had a new way to read ebooks on my flight home.
Finally, there are some software companies who just prefer to distribute their software directly from their site. You can’t find eReader’s app in the Marketplace, only by heading to ereader.com/android on your phone’s browser. And the Sirius XM app is similarly only available via their website.
In all of these cases, you couldto install the apps on an HTC Aria, or a Motorola Backflip, or (presumably) a Dell Aero. But that’s not the easiest thing for a newbie Android user to investigate. All they’re going to know is that their phone doesn’t allow them to install an app, at which point they’ll either give up or complain they should’ve bought a Blackberry/iPhone/etc. Even if someone does investigate and find out how to do that, it’s a lot more work than point-click-done.
And I don’t lay the blame just at the feet of AT&T. Motorola and HTC both make fantastic Android devices for other carriers, so they clearly know how to make a non-crippled device. AT&T clearly wants this badly enough to force manufacturers to remove the ability from these phones, and that, to me, means AT&T feels threatened by Android. Whether it’s the iPhone bogeyman or the fear that a device might be sold that’s not choked to the gills with useless AT&T bloatware, I don’t know. Probably it’s a combination of the two.
But until AT&T gets their act together and recognizes that removing abilities is not a net positive for the consumer, I strongly recommend you avoid all AT&T branded Android devices. Yes, it’s going to cost more for an unlocked Nexus One or similar device, but at least you’re buying a whole, fully functional device. A cheap phone on contract isn’t worth it if it’s only 3/4 of the phone it could be.