ATT Slowly Warming to Amazon, Other Android App Stores

Published on March 28, 2011
by Ina Fried

Historically, AT&T hasn’t been all that open to third-party Android app stores. And that is understating things.

The carrier has essentially blocked access to such stores by allowing its phones to install only programs purchased via the official Android Market. However, the carrier appears to be shifting in that position following last week’s launch of the Amazon app store.

“AT&T plans to offer the Amazon application store for Android smartphones and we’re working to give our Android customers access to third party application stores,” the company said in a statement. “This requires updates to our systems and finalizing arrangements with Amazon.”

Some other carriers warn customers about the security risks of using non-Android Market stores–and nearly all require users to change a preference setting–but AT&T is by far the most restrictive.

It’s a tricky issue for carriers. Although Google doesn’t pre-screen applications that go into the official Android Market, it has been active at removing those found to contain malware. Malicious apps have often appeared first and lingered longer in third-party stores, especially overseas.

However, legitimate third-party app stores such as Amazon and GetJar contend they can be just as secure as the Android Market, while at the same time making apps easier to search and discover. Amazon, for example, pre-screens apps before including them in its store.

Amazon is also working to offer special deals and exclusives, such as being the only place to download the Android version of Angry Birds Rio.

GetJar marketing chief Patrick Mork said he would welcome any easing of AT&T’s restrictions.

“We’d be delighted if this was the case and we welcome AT&T’s move to open Android app distribution to third parties,” Mork said in an e-mail. “We believe that the key to Android’s success is its open nature, which should impact all elements of the ecosystem….Open distribution enhances the opportunity for developers to reach a greater audience and is the critical first step to ensure healthier monetization.”

AT&T didn’t share further details on timing or which other third-party stores would be supported.

“We look forward to sharing more info with our customers in the near future,” AT&T said.

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