EXCLUSIVE | Optus is blocking owners of Android mobile phones from buying paid apps from the Android store, while locking users into long service contracts.
Optus is the exclusive Australian mobile carrier for the HTC Dream and Samsung Galaxy Android phones and yet people who signed a long term contract for these phones have to date been blocked from buying paid Android apps and getting the full Android experience.
The same applies to Optus customers who use other outright purchased Android handsets like the HTC Magic and customers of Virtual Mobile Network Operators like Virgin Mobile which use Optus mobile towers.
If Australian iPhone customers had been blocked by Optus from buying paid apps there would have been massive media coverage and rioting at Apple Stores but because the iPhone gets the lions share of press attention Android users on the Optus network have stewed in anger for many months. (There is a suspicion among users, though, that Optus is blocking over-the-air application installation and updates on iPhones, given how often these fail on Optus.)
APC found many angry and frustrated comments on the Whirlpool community forums by Optus & Virgin Mobile customers. For example:
Danndel — "Still no further info from Optus regarding this, asked again via Twitter and was told the usual We will tweet when we know something, First Question re paid apps was asked via Twitter on July 16. Still no answer over 2 months later, Optus Sucks and I wish I wasn’t too broke to break the contract"
bush pig — "Starting to wonder exactly what Optus are up to in regards to not being able to access Paid Apps on the Market Place. I just inserted an old (no credit) Telstra pre-paid sim into my Hero. I access the Marketplace and have access to all paid apps.
"I find this a bit odd as Tesltra dont even sell any Android devices... If it is the case the provider has to enable access to Paid Apps.. then why would Telstra do this if they dont sell any devices that use the Android Market? Excuse the conspiracy theories, but it makes me wonder if it may be the case that Optus rather than not having enabled Paid Apps have blocked them"
APC asked Google Australia, Samsung and HTC representatives if they’re disappointed that Optus customers aren’t able to get the full range of free & paid Android apps and whether Optus had given them an explanation as to why access to paid applications is blocked.
Optus is Australia's 2nd largest mobile carrier and a large proportion of people who buy the newly launched HTC Hero and Tattoo Android phones from HTC's retail partner Harvey Norman will put an Optus SIM in that phone and also be blocked from buying paid Android apps
HTC had no comment to make but a spokesperson for Samsung said their mobile product team believed it was an issue specific to Optus because the Samsung Galaxy Android phone could access paid Android apps on all the other mobile carriers (Telstra, Vodafone, 3 Mobile, etc).
Unsurprisingly, the Optus spokesperson contacted by APC (who asked not to be named) repeated the same line we’ve heard all year: “Optus is currently working with Google to provide an Android application store to our customers, and we are optimistic it will be available soon”.
Thankfully the Google Australia spokesperson was more forthcoming and said obviously their intent was to ensure all Australian Android users had access to paid applications.
The spokesperson continued: “it would be great for everyone to have access to both free and paid apps and we're working towards this aim. Google Australia is discussing commercial terms with Optus to encourage them to offer paid apps and we're hoping that these will be offered shortly.”
Reading between the lines, it seems likely that Optus has Google over a barrel and is demanding a cut of the sales revenue from Android apps if it is to remove its restriction on accessing them.
Some Android phone owners on the Optus mobile network who spoke to APC said they didn't even know paid Android apps existed because only free apps are displayed when they view the Android Market on their phone
Until the Google/Optus negotiations reach a conclusion there are two ways for people with Android phones on the Optus Network to bypass the block and access paid applications:
1) Put a SIM from another carrier like Telstra, Vodafone, 3 Mobile etc into their phone and use local WiFi access or that SIM’s data plan to access paid Android apps
2) Wipe the phone's Optus Android Firmware and install custom Android Firmware. Then use the Market Enabler App (as pictured)
This option is only for geeks. Don’t try this option if you aren’t aware what firmware, Unix command line and bricking your phone mean.
I opted for option two and have since bought apps like My Backup Pro and Better Keyboard easily on my phone using Google Checkout and a credit card.