If you don’t own an HTC Android device, or never root/flash your phone, this news may not be of much interest to you. If you do, however, score one major victory for consumers: HTC has just announced via Facebook that it is now company policy to leave bootloaders unlocked. Prior to this point, HTC devices were not terribly difficult to root, however recent models, such as the Thunderbolt, Sensation, and the Evo 3D came with tightly locked bootloaders. In layman’s terms, this is a huge pain in the neck, if not an outright wall for Android modders and hackers.
To give a little background info, there’s two main areas of Android hackery: rooting, which gives you full access to a device and lets you run any software you please, and flashing which allows you to outright replace the entire OS, usually with another, modified version. It’s the latter that make popular ROMs like CyangonMod, as well as unofficial updates to Android devices possible. Locked bootloaders, however, make it very difficult if not outright impossible for such hackery to be done. You can root a device with locked bootloaders and, for example, download a CPU overclocking app, but if you want CM7 or Fresh Rom on your HTC device, well with a locked bootloader, you’re almost assuredly out of luck.
It’s not a very consumer-friendly move, nor does it endear Android’s most loyal supporters, the tireless hackers over at XDA and other Android fan sites, to the manufacturer very much.
Well, HTC has listened and now all future HTC devices come with the promise to leave that bootloader nice and unlocked. Your device is yours. HTC is actually not the first to embrace this idea of handset openness, however, as (in a stunning move) Sony Ericsson actually led the charge, with Motorola, who was one of the first to ship a popular device with a locked bootloader (the Droid X), following close behind. Samsung has also been flirting with the Android modding community recently, largely through a mysterious figure known as SamsungJohn. We even hear whispers that Samsung will keep their bootloaders unlocked as well.
All in all, it’s extremely encouraging to see some of the biggest names in Android handset manufacturing choosing to allow their users to do what they want with their devices. It’s unclear how much of this is because of pressure from Google (though we can guess the company’s thoughts on the matter), and how much is simply from the community themselves. Though, the latter seems to be the reason most of these companies are citing.
And that’s good for all of us. Not just for Android users, either. Most of these manufacturers also make WP7 devices, and hopefully this idea that consumers own their devices will carry over to their WP7 divisions (following Microsoft’s helpful lead). And who knows? Maybe if the likes of Microsoft and Sony can start to become more hacker-friendly, we might even see the day that Apple will learn to become more friendly towards the jailbreak crowd!
….Ok, you’re right. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.