When I upgraded to an Android mobile device with AT&T, I signed a new two year contract with a more costly data plan. The device was discounted to zero thanks to a special promotion, but actually the full cost of the device is amortized over the life of the contract. This explains why there is a prorated termination fee for recouping that cost.
AT&T, like most carriers, preinstalls their own lineup of apps on top of the base Android operating system. They also disable features like being able to specify alternative sources for downloading apps. Many AT&T apps require a subscription with an additional monthly recurring charge. AT&T Family Map is an example. There are many disadvantages to this arrangement.
AT&T is extremely slow to upgrade their apps to newer releases of Android. In fact, they don’t even bother to do so for legacy (2yr old) hardware. This is horrible for users who cannot take advantage of the constant stream of software innovations available from Google.
The preinstalled apps cannot be uninstalled. This bloat occupies precious memory and storage that is better used for the user’s favorite apps. These undesirable apps occupy valuable resources and drain battery life.
It is understandable that a carrier would want its users to install its apps in the hopes of generating more revenue. It is a never-ending quest for carriers to avoid becoming dumb pipes, while over-the-top content and Internet services vendors become rich. Unfortunately, no matter how hard they try, carriers will never innovate fast enough to maintain a competitive advantage in these value added services, because they are too slow and too old-school. Dumb pipes are all they are good at.
On my next device, I will almost certainly reimage it with Cyanogenmod.