On Thursday evening, AT&T and Samsung announced the Infuse 4G, an Android smartphone with a massive 4.5-inch screen. But several websites are reporting an even bigger development: the Samsung Infuse 4G will allow apps from outside the Android Market.
Sideloading, as it’s known in tech jargon, has been absent from all AT&T Android phones to date. Prohibiting non-Market apps “minimizes the risk of malicious apps harming customers and provides more protection to the customer’s private data stored on the phone,” AT&T explained last June.
Although AT&T hasn’t announced any policy changes, several bloggers who attended the Infuse 4G announcement on Thursday confirmed the “unknown sources” option in the phone’s settings. Users must check this box to allow non-Market apps on their phones. Samsung’s Philip Berne said his retail boxed Infuse 4G also contains the “unknown sources” option.
Sideloading has plenty of legitimate uses, like the Amazon Appstore and demo apps from developers, but it also allows users to install unauthorized tethering apps, which AT&T and Verizon are now blocking through the Android Market. Perhaps AT&T is confident enough in its ability to detect illicit tethering on its own.
I also wonder if AT&T’s proposed T-Mobile acquisition played a role. T-Mobile never restricted app sources, and the difference in policy could be a sticking point for federal regulators. Now, AT&T can say that it’s being open.
Whatever the reason, I’m hoping sideloading on the Infuse 4G isn’t a one-time deal. Most users aren’t even going to bother with non-Market apps, and for everyone else, it’s much better for AT&T to let them have some freedom instead of forcing them to root their phones. With any luck, AT&T will enable sideloading on older phones as well, but given the time it can take for carriers and phone makers to update their handsets, I’m not holding my breath.
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