Vodafone blocks SIM-free phones from Market offer

Vodafone has announced a deal with advertising giant Google to offer selected customers free or discounted Android apps in what it claims is the first own-brand Android Market content channel in Europe.

Launched today, the Vodafone channel appears at the top of the Android Market - the same place that the category buttons appear - and offers cherry-picked applications to Vodafone customers. Much of the content, culled from Vodafone's various partners around the world, is free, while the rest is discounted compared to its regular Android Market asking price.

"Together with Google, Vodafone has made it really simple for customers to get to the essential apps they can trust," claimed Vodafone's Lee Epting in a statement to press. "More than 75 million Vodafone customers around the world are regularly using the mobile internet, and we are committed to giving them the best possible experience. This focus on quality over quantity helps deliver on that commitment."

As a freebie for Vodafone users, it sounds like a sweet deal. Sadly, there's a catch: it's only open to those who have Vodafone-branded handsets running custom software.

Eager to see what the channel had to offer, we tried to access it on a retail SIM-free Samsung Galaxy S II with a Vodafone contract SIM. Sadly, the promised icon for the channel is nowhere to be seen, with only the usual categories appearing in the Android Market.

As Vodafone has confirmed that the service is live in the UK now, it seems clear that those with Android handsets sourced from elsewhere will be excluded from the offers in the new channel, whether they're a Vodafone customer or not.

We attempted to get in touch with Vodafone to find out how customers with unbranded handsets can access the service, but received no response to an e-mail and no answer on the company's media relations line.