When is Android not Android? When it's on AT&T
Yesterday AT&T started selling its first Android phone, the Motorola Backflip, for $99 with a two year contract and a mail-in rebate. Joyful sounds were heard all around the Android blogosphere...for about 24 hours.
Then the bad news started rolling in. While the Backflip hardware seems fine for the cost, AT&T has modified (some would say crippled) the OS. First of all, it's running Android 1.5 with MotoBlur. For those not keeping track, that's an old build and already we're seeing apps hitting the market that require Android 2.0 or later (the Motorola Droid currently runs Android 2.0, the T-Mobile Nexus One runs 2.1). Second, they removed Google as the default search engine and replaced it with Yahoo. Third, they load the phone up with AT&T-sponsored apps that you apparently can't remove. And finally, they've disabled the ability to run apps that don't come from the official Android Market.
That last bit might need some clarification. Most (all?) Android devices come with access to the Android Market, but not every app is found on the official Market. In particular a lot of companies provide direct downloads to their beta testers. On a standard Android device, you simply go into your Settings menu, pick Applications and then check the "Unknown sources" checkbox and then you can run any Android application you'd like, no matter where it comes from. Developers also use this setting to test their own creations. Some unofficial tethering applications can also be found 'off market.' AT&T has disabled the option to install these unofficial apps for reasons known only to AT&T.
Android geeks are most concerned about the Market situation (though there is a workaround) but to average users the bigger issue is probably going to be the fairly ancient Android build. Whichever issue bothers you the most, it's pretty clear that AT&T customers have to go back to waiting for the full Android experience.