By Matt Burns
AT&T Wireless (NYSE:T) no longer sells tablets with a long-term contact. This is great news and comes by way of a memo leaked to Engadget Mobile. That means the upfront cost of tablets is slightly higher, but the consumer wins in the long run by not being locked into a tablet for a couple of years.
This comes several weeks after Verizon stopped selling tablets with subsidies as well. In the past both AT&T and Verizon (NYSE:VZ) offered tablets at their full MSRP along with lower priced options that locked the buyer into a 2-year contract. Now, the tablets are only available at their full price.
It's unclear why the Verizon and now AT&T did away with the 2-year option. However, it doesn't matter. Advertising the tablets with the subsidized price always seemed shady - nearly a bait and switch scheme. Sure, the consumer didn't have to get the off-contract option, but the lower price likely brought them into the door.
Tablets, and for that matter, high-speed wireless networks, have simply not hit a point in their development stage where it makes sense locking into one for two years. Every new generation of tablets leapfrogs the previous. Likewise, 4G wireless networks are still in their infancy and one carrier could have a better network then another next year. Besides, the subsidizes were never that spectacular; it never made sense locking oneself into a two-year contract in exchange for a mere $100 off the sticker.
Right now this AT&T policy change is not as significant as it was at Verizon. Outside of the iPad that's always been free of a contract, AT&T only sells a refurbished Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9, the craptastic Pantech Element and widely overpriced (and rather shitty) HTC Jetstream. But hopefully, AT&T will get some quality Android tablets in the future and price them competitively.