Locked bootloaders, custom roms, developers and hackers.

So, you either know what the title is referring to, you’ve a vague idea or you haven’t the first clue. Stick with it though as i suggest this could affect all smartphone owners.

I’ll explain, in simple terms, what this means, what you can do with your phone and what it possibly means to the manufacturers.

So, in layman’s terms a locked bootloader means that the phone manufacturers have build into the device some sort of protection that stops the likes of you and I tinkering with it, there are several ways and means that they do this and there are a few different ways it is described but the effect is the same.

I don’t believe there are any Android phones that haven’t (or couldn’t)  been unlocked ( yes, I’ve been known to be wrong!) but the point is the direction phone manufacturers are going and how this may affect how they are viewed by us, the buying public. Some phones are pretty well unlocked from the off, where others have all sorts of barriers to trip up the intrepid hackers, it’s usually a question of time and effort.

What does an unlocked bootloader (and therefore phone) mean? In simple terms it will allow the user to install custom roms, runs apps that would otherwise not work ( require root permissions) and remove various network or manufacturers software (sometimes known as bloatware/crapware).

Should I unlock my phone? Yes! If nothing else to allow you to remove the aforementioned bloatware and get the phone running as it was supposed to from Google, sometimes known as ‘Vanilla’- as in plain vanilla flavoured. An unlocked phone will have a longer life, getting operating system updates from unofficial sources (Cyanogen and Modaco for example) long after the official updates have stopped.

The reason for the article was to discuss the manufacturers and their changing policies towards this. Originally HTC have been the champions of unlocked phones, long before the days of android people were hacking their Windows Mobile phones and gave rise to phone hacking site XDA developers , no undoubtedly the largest forum for phone modifying and hacking. Recently though HTC have done a complete about turn, locking a few of their recent phones and stating at recent phone launches that they will be keeping that policy in place. As a result, the main players in the development/hacking world are turning their backs on HTC, moving onto other makes of phones…..

……and those manufacturers are Sony Ericsson, Lg and Samsung. To be fair, Samsung haven’t really had a policy of locking down their phones, but with their most recent top end phone, the Galaxy S2, they appear to be releasing the tools for the hacker (Kernel source code) much quicker . Sony Ericsson have going the complete opposite direction to HTC, last year Se released the Experia X10, a potentially great phone but stuffed with all sorts of modifications and an out of date operating system (Android 1.6) , worse of all, it was seriously locked down, meaning no one could be bothered to try to hack it and remove the stuffy interface and update the operating system, the phone sold ok but was mostly ignored by the enthusiast community (It has now been unlocked..) Now, with SE’s latest batch of smartphones they have openly embraced having the phones unlocked, even having an official section on their website, as a result the developer community is expressing an interest in their phones. LG are fairly new to the world of high end smartphones, but they did something right with the Optimus 2X, creating a buzz before release  due to being the first dual core phone to market and making the phone easily unlocked, this triggered the arguably the most well know rom developer Cyanogen and his fellow hackers to adopt the phone.

Motorola have always had a policy of locking their phones and apparently have no plans to change, as a result are largely ignored by the developer and the community.

What does this all mean?

Honestly? Not a lot! The truth is 99% of phone buyers don’t know much more about their phones other than it looks nice and possibly what type it is, Apple, Android, Blackberry or Windows. Most have no idea of the CPU it’s running let alone if the bootloader can be unlocked.

Here’s my thoughts and possible the point, there is clearly no doubt that the phone manufacturers have something to learn from the developer/hacking community, LG has openly referenced Cyanogen and I believe supplied him with hardware, Cyanogen Roms are available for more and more phones, Paul O’Brien (Modaco) has helped Advent with the Vega tablet and found fixes for many phones. I feel that companies that accept the developers playing with their devices are looking outwards and forwards, there is no doubt they monitor what is being done and learn from it, as if they are saying, ” Oh, I see what you’ve done, lets incorporate that into our next update” even if it is unspoken and never acknowledged….. so maybe all smartphone owners have something to gain from unlocked bootloaders…. who knows?

Sorry for the rambling post, what are your thoughts?