AT&T non-market lockdown

I'm on the bandwagon. I'm on the boat. I'm drinking the Kool-Aid. I've gotten with the program. I've seen the light at the end of the tunnel. ('Bout time, eh?)

It's far past time for AT&T to allow non-market applications on its Android smartphones.

A little context, for those of you not on AT&T: If you go to Settings>Applications on any Android phone (save for those on AT&T), you'll see a setting for "Unknown sources" that will let "allow installation of non-Market applications." It's a safety feature, really, meaning that you can't install an app if it's not from the Android Market. And presumably, if an app is installed from the Android Market, it's warm and cuddly and safe. But we know that's not the case 100 percent of the time, and on rare occasions a "bad app" slips in. (These are, however, very rare cases given the scope of the Market.)

But then there's AT&T, which in its infinite wisdom decided that its users shouldn't be allowed to install non-market applications. This, after it took many moons to actually get an Android smartphone in the first place (and even then we got the Backflip).

It's time for AT&T to flip the switch. We're big boys and girls. We can take responsibility for our downloads.

But at this point it's bigger than that. The Amazon Appstore has quickly gained traction -- much faster than we expected, thanks to some high-profile exclusive releases and a free-app-a-day program. (And then there's that newfangled Music Cloud thingy.) But if you're using an AT&T phone that can't install non-Market apps, you're SOL.

We should mention the Sideload Wonder Machine, created by our own Jerry Hildenbrand. It lets you install non-Market apps on AT&T phones via ADB and the command line via a sexy Windows/Mac/Linux user interface. You technically can install the free apps (or at least the non-DRM apps) from the Amazon Appstore through this method (or traditional sideloading via ADB) if you pull the from the Amazon Appstore cache on your phone and ... and ... and ...

Yeah. It's ridiculous. And it's doubly ridiculous that we brought up this issue to Amazon just before the Appstore was announced, and nobody had an answer for it, and it's still an issue today, though reportedly AT&T and Amazon will figure it out.

They shouldn't have had to. AT&T overstepped, and it's time to make it right. Allow non-Market apps on your phones, AT&T. Your users will thank you for it. And we will, too.


Reader comments

It's (far past) time for AT&T to allow non-Market apps on its phones


as much as i am disappointing in tmo line up of android phones, at least i still have the ability to download apps from other places. sideloading is another reason why android is so great. whether or not the merger go through im still leaving to go verizon.

just a question, IDK if it works. can you root(or temp root), modify the settings.apk, then unroot(reboot if temp rooted). because you can get a modified settings.apk which allows unknown sources. or you can root using super 1 click, click the allow non market button and then unroot. Will the setting go away?

You can root and modify the settings file (not that apps, its actually a file that saves all your settings). AT&T took it out, but they did a half-@$$ job of doing it. The setting is still there, its just hidden, so you have to pull the file through adb and edit it.

I'm sooooooooo glad I left AT&T last September. My wife & I had iPhones when we booked to Verizon & Android. I personally haven't looked back. Although my wife has got back into the iPhone fold w/ Verizon. Not me, I'm staying Android. And far, far away from AT&T!

I wouldn't mind being limited to the Android market IF I could get rid of all the AT&T bloat-ware on my Inspire!!!

Did you even read the requirements for ChainsDD?

You have to root first, at which point you don't even need chains any more. used to be Verizon that restricted things like this from their customers. Looks like the shoe is on the other foot now. AT&T fanboys can no longer say their carrier allows their customers to be free.

As an AT&T user, I completely agree. I used to see it as nothing more than a minor annoyance that they did that, I had the SWM for the few apps I downloaded outside the market. The Amazon app store changed that all for me, having to hassle with transferring the apk to my computer everytime I wanted to download an app was too much. It finally got me to root and allow non-market apps on my phone.

I'm sure this has been brought up before, but T-Mobile has been pretty far and away the biggest supporter of Android since day one, and Android will eventually become the dominant OS for smartphones in America. An aquisition by ATT that results in a market far more dominated by the biggest company telling you what you can or cannot do with equipment you own seems like a huge anti-competitive issue.

This is the reason I am leaving AT&T at the end of June (after almost 17 years as a customer). I wanted an Atrix but I could not install my employers software (without using SWM) so I could access my email and such so I returned it.

isn't this part of androids "openness" that it's praised for? at&t is using their open rights to lock the phone down. good for them.

Unfortunately it is. I've been saying this for months but the fanboys don't want to accept it. Unless you build your own phones, Android is not open for you; it is open to the manufacturers and carriers to do whatever the heck they want with the platform and then lock you out of it -- some with stronger locks than others.

You still have to resort to exploits to crack the code to make your Android device truly yours. That's not any different from what you have to do with Apple devices. So much for openness.

True if you choose a crippled Android phone. If you're on AT&T, you can buy a Nexus One straight from Google, or the upcoming AT&T-compatible Nexus S. That's not possible with an iOS device on either partner carrier.

So... your only options are the Nexus One and the upcoming Nexus S -- both of them keyboardless devices??? Again, not different than iOS devices.

iOS devices allow you to select from only two US carriers. Android devices, with and without physical keyboards, are available on all major carriers.

There's no iOS device that allows you to sideload, even on carriers that allow sideloading. You can't even activate (not just provision, but even use) an iOS device without connecting it to iTunes.

How are they the same?

You're abandoning your original argument that you "still have to resort to exploits to crack the code to make your Android device truly yours," which is untrue with the Nexus phones, as indicated, and untrue of some other phones on other carriers. If you choose the antichrist for your carrier, you shouldn't blame the OS platform for your lack of options.

I haven't and wouldn't argue that Android is completely open, but it's substantially more open, in practical terms, than products from Microsoft, Apple and RIM.

Would you please remind us what your options are on Iphones on AT&T? Oh yeah, the 3GS and the 4G. And where, pray tell, are the keyboards on those? The difference is obvious. Both android devices aren't saddles with an ancient (By cellphone reckoning) OS that can't even tether via WiFi without voiding a warranty. Don't even get me started on the lack of live wallpapers, the ability to actually multitask, and even the ability to change out the friggin keyboard!

So yeah, no different than iOS devices... except for the HUGE multitude of differences, that is.

Fanboi, begone!

By the way, when I started to read this article, it made me think for a second that AT&T had finally decided to allow sideloading. Don't hold your breath on this happening. AT&T will probably reach a deal with Amazon to preload their app store in future devices and in software updates for its most popular devices, and that'll be the end of it until someone else comes up with another app store, and the process will repeat.

It is strange, every other carrier says do at your own risk, why does at&t Mobility take such a hard stand?

I know this much, it is not because they care about us the consumers.

True enough AndroidCentral has given us the SWM and it does its job admirably, but a new problem arises and I am afraid that the solution will be pre-install the AMAZON app store and add some code to allow their apps to be installed.

This just adds more bloatware and not surprising I guess, money is money and the rich will get richer.


I don't see why everyone keeps crying about how AT&T is not allowing non market apps and slow to push upgrades. I've had the ability to install non market apps and 2.2 since September. I'm even now on gingerbread on my captivate (yes, for att) through cm7. Instead of complaining to att over something they probably wont ever allow, at least for a while, do some research and root your phone and install a much needed custom rom that'll increase your cappy's performance dramatically

I can sideload apps on to my AT&T Backflip. Simply place phone directly in toilet, walk away, flip over, cook for 30 seconds on 50 percent power, do the hokey pokey, and buy an Evo 3D.

I've only been with AT&T since March 15th, but because of this nonsense & the "limited" data plans I'm honestly thinking of going with either Verizon or Sprint.

This afternoon I emailed AT&T my concern for both issues. Once I get a response I'll post it here. :)

I've quickly come to like the amazon store more than the android market. I get the free app every day regardless of whether i'll ever use it. There's nothing that says I have to install it now. I also logged into the amazon store on my wife's android with my account and sure enough I can install all the apps there as well that I've bought, so I'm sure there will be no issues installing on my galaxy tablet come this summer. I feel for anyone with ATT. The only reason to use them in the past was the iPhone, which most pre-teens were after.

Through my many years of winmobile phones, and since October with my Dell streak, I always seek out custom non carrier roms, if for anything else to put the functionality back into the device as the manufacturer & author of the OS intended. That and to remove the carrier bloat (value added software).

Obviously Phil wasn't that much of a visionary when he defended AT&T's position back in the Backflip days. Because it was a low-end phone it didn't matter? Let that be a lesson. If something seems fishy about a carrier customization to a low-end phone, be on guard because it'll come to their high-end phones too.

I realize that no one's posted here for a while, but for those who stumble onto this article via searching for a solution to the problem, I have an easy answer...

...and, no, it doesn't involve either sideloading or rooting. While I have no problem recommending sideloading (for those who know how to do it), I try to discourage rooting, if at all possible. The more I use an Android, the more fragile I realize it is; and rooting, even when it works, just exacerbates that problem. I'm not saying there's anytning wrong with it for those who really know how to do it; but for the average user it is positively NOT the thing to recommend... I mean... you know... unless it's okay with you that you send an end-user down a road that will result in a higher-maintenance (and maybe even ultimately bricked) phone. As a geek, I'm perfectly happy to root a phone because I understand all of its risks (as well as, yes, I concede, benefits) and other issues. But I can't sleep at night if I have put someone else's phone (and their ability to use it, and navigate the matters of their lives so doing) in jeopardy. Maybe it's because I belong to a consulting organization which actually has a code of ethics... I dunno.

Anyway, that's not what this posting is about. What it's about is this: AT&T has, for some months, now, been relaxing the restriction. It has been doing so because it knew that most of the devices which it would start both selling, and allowing to be upgraded, to 2.3 Gingerbread would not have the limitation. The new AT&T Samsung Captivate Glide (essentially the same as the Captivate, but with front/rear camera, 2.3 Gingerbread, and a physical slide-out keyboard, among other minor changes) that was announced back on... I think it was November 20, 2011, has no such limitation.

And so, little known in many Captivate circles is that all one has to do is contact AT&T tech support and ask for it, and support will "push" to the phone a little software patch/tool that eliminates the limitation. Now, when I say "tech support," I mean the actual tech support department, not the "customer care" or "customer service" department. When one either dials the AT&T Wireless 800-number, or dials "611" from one's Captivate, even specifying to the Internal Voice Routing (IVR) system (by pressing the right digits when asked) that one wishes to get to "tech support" will still land one in the "customer care" or "customer service" departments, where they can change your features or billing, but they couldn't punch their way out of a technological paper sack.

Therefore, one must, first, DEMAND to be put straught through to the "AT&T Wireless Technical Support" department... actual TECHNICAL people, not mere "customer service" or "customer care" people.

The customer service rep has been trained to not make that easy; to try to resolve the problem himself or herself; and they are, to the last of them, misinformed about the problem. I've tested seven -- count 'em, SEVEN -- front line, low-level customer support personnel, EVERY LAST ONE of whom said that it's an Android issue; that they needed to transfer me to Google Android Market support (as if such a thing even existed in the sense that most of us think of "support"). I demanded to speak with a supervisor, and actually had two of them put me on hold and intentionally disconnect us. One came back and said her supervisor confirmed that it's an Android thing. I finally told her to tell her supervisor that I had spoken with a director at Samsung USA in the Galaxy S support group who confirmed that the Captivate (and all other Samsung phones) is configured pursuant to AT&T specs; that the Android-Market-only limitation is an AT&T, and not a Samsung, or Google/Android, or Google-Android-Market requirement. I told her to please stop repeating it; that no matter how many TIMES she repeated it, it would not magically make it so. And I demanded to speak with either the supervisor or "tech support."

Then I got upset and said that if low-level tech support were as feckless as her department, I would want to SCREAM by the time I finished talking with them, so I demanded to speak with "Tier 2 Technical Support." She, to my surprise, agreed that that was likely the right department, and she put me on hold for-seemingly-ever and then finally got back on the line. This time, she was contrite, and apologized profusely for giving me wrong information. I knew, right there, that the support person had told her she wrongly advised me; and, sure enough, when the support person got on the line and the customer care person got off, I asked the support person if she had disabused the customer care person of her misguidedness. She said she had, indeed; and that part of the reason it took so long for her to get on the line is that she got the supervisor on the phone and told her to tell her people to stop misguiding customers regarding this issue; that, indeed, it's an AT&T configuration issue which "Tier 2 Tech Support" is empowered to do something about.

And so that's exactly what she did, quick as you please. She verified the account, and the phone on it that needed to have the tool pushed to it, and then I heard her typing on her computer keyboard, and next thing I heard was the beep of two messages arriving at the phone in my earpiece.

The first one was labeled "Configuration Message" and its contents was "DM Boostrap Message;" then the second one, immediately thereafter, was simply numbered, as are all messages from systems rather than from other cell phones, and its contents was "nullnullnullnullnullnullnull". And, she said, that was it. Simple as that. I didn't even need, she said, to reboot the phone (though before all was said and done, I insisted that we so do so that I could know that it really took, and would survive a reboot).

She asked me if I knew of any .APK files anywhere which I had not been able to install. I told her that when I had earlier tried to download and install the Amazon App Market app directly from the Amazon web site, it had failed in exactly the way shown in the photograph at the top of this story. She said to go download and try to install it. AND IT WORKED! Pretty as you please.

Then I logged-in and tried to download today's free app... some kind of piano thingy that I would never use, but I needed to test using something. And, voila!, it installed, pretty as you please (then I uninstalled it, even PRETTIER as you please!).

Then we rebooted, which took a while because I've got so much stuff on the phone; and during that is when I asked her what Android phone she used, and, to my horror, SHE'S AN iPHONE USER! We laughed, and I said, "so, then, you're really just humoring us all with this silly Android support crap!" She replied, "Hey... it's a living." Very funny. I liked her.

About that time the phone finally finished booting and I re-launched the Amazon App Store app. This time, it prompted me to download the new Amazon Price Check app, which I did and it installed just fine.

Then I went to the Android Freeware web site, where one may ONLY download .APK files, and I just picked one at random, downloaded it via the browser, and then pressed on it to install it. The "app loader" dialog popped-up, and I confirmed that it should handle the task, which it did, and, voila!, the .APK (a really awful calculator) installed. And, of course, I promptly uninstalled it.

So, it worked! And it was easy. And she confirmed that AT&T is only too happy to do it... though they don't want EVERYONE doing it, if it can be helped. But certainly anyone who asks can have it done.

It's called the "Cross-functional Tool" or "the XDM tool;" and any AT&T Android phone -- not just the Captivate -- running 2.2 Froyo, or OLDER, which is only able to install from the Android Market can have it "pushed" by AT&T to it as easily and quickly as I've herein described.

I asked her if 2.3 Gingerbread phones have the limitation, and she said "some;" and the solution for them, she said, is similar, except using an ever-so-slightly different tool.

So, there it is. That's how to do it.

Another thing which sometimes works is putting the phone in FLIGHT MODE (which still allows WIFI connectivity), and then trying to install the .APK file while it's in that mode. I'm told that if that doesn't work, then using the APKINSTALL.COM web site to upload the file, and then let the site try to fake the phone into believing it's coming from the Android Market while it's in FLIGHT MODE can sometimes work.

And, of course, there's sideloading. And yes, indeed, there's "Sideload Wonder Machine" for that. But, as the article points out, it "lets you install non-Market apps on AT&T phones via ADB and the command line." ICK! Even a "sexy" interface can't hide the ugliness of THAT!

I recommend Harmony Hollow Software's unassuming little "Android Injector" utility. Just Google it, you'll find it right away.

Download Android Injector to the Windows machine, but don't install it yet. First go to the Samsung web site and download the set of USB drivers for the Captivate. They have a nice installer and everything. Install them on the Windows machine and then reboot it.

Then, without having installed Android Injector yet, plug the phone into the Windows machine via USB, and when the dialog pops-up asking if you're going to run KIES MINI, or transfer media, or if you're using the phone as "mass storage," either choose "mass storage," or try just pressing the "back" button to get out of the dialog altogether. If what I write next ultimately doesn't work, then try it again, only do the opposite of whatever you just did the first time. The point is to get the Windows machine to sense the phone as USB-connected, and then mount the drivers that you just installed for it, as it will indicate down near the lower-rightmost corner of the Windows machine's screen.

Once there's a successful connection of the phone and the Windows machine, and a good driver mounting, then unplug the phone and turn it off, wait a few seconds, then boot it back up again.

While the phone's rebooting, install Android Injector onto your Windows machine in the normal manner.

Then, after the phone is fully booted up, put the phone into "USB Diagnostics" mode.

Then launch Android Injector on the Windows machine, then connect the phone via USB and watch for Android Injector to "see" the phone. If you get the dialog on the phone asking if you're transferring media, or using KIES MINI, etc., just press on the "back" key, without even responding to the dialog; or, if what follows doesn't work, then when you repeat the immediately-above, and you get to that dialog, choose the opposite.

Then simply use Android Injector to navigate to the .APK file on the Windows machine, and install it. Next thing you know, the phone's lighting-up, and the notification bar starts telling of the installation, and, POOF!, it's done... before you can blink. Beyond that, here's my advice...

After the successful side-load installation using Android Injector, close Android Injector, and unplug the phone from the USB connection.

Then turn off USB diagnostics in the phone.

Then REBOOT the phone.

The phone's rebooting may or may not actually be necessary, but I recommend doing it anyway because that USB connection in USB diagnostics mode can sometimes confuse the phone into believing that the 16GB internal SD card is no longer mounted... in fact, that it's not even physically in the phone anymore. This can can also be affected by whether you specified "mass storage" when the dialog popped-up, or just tried backing out of it with the "back" button.

Turning off USB diagnostics, and then doing an orderly shut down of the phone, then an orderly boot-up again, will virtually eliminate the occasional problem of the phone wrongly thinking that it's internal SD card is no longer present.

Or you could just call AT&T; then demand to speak to "Tier 2 Technical Support" (and don't take any form of "no," be it direct or passive aggressive, for an answer); then, once connected and you verify that you're, indeed, talking to "Tier 2 Technical Support" (for Android phones), ask that they push to your Captivate the "XDM Tool." Be sure to also make sure that it survives reboot.

Hope that helps!

Gregg L. DesElms
Napa, California USA
gregg at greggdeselms dot com