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Why Should Companies Like Motorola and Verizon Allow You to Unlock Bootloaders?

Bootloaders will likely forever be a hot topic around the Android community, unless of course, we get some government ruling that forces carriers and device manufacturers to stop locking them. As many of you know, there are a few key players in the locked bootloader game that have their reasons for doing so. While most of us will never agree with the idea that unlocking a bootloader and throwing on custom software is going to ruin the network experience for others, it’s a conversation that probably has no positive outcome for us. Or does it? 

In the past, we have shared some thought on why carriers and OEMs should unlock bootloaders, but we have never done an official post surrounding the topic. The idea comes from a reddit user who claims to be interning at a “Fortune 500 company who makes phones” and that locks bootloaders. He is hoping to gather legitimate reasons from the Android community, so that he can step up to his bosses and lay the smackdown. Whether or not an intern can come close to making a difference on the bootloader front is debatable, but we like the idea of approaching bootloader unlock talk in a more formal matter.

So today, let’s do that. Let us talk about reasons why companies like Motorola, Verizon, HTC (some times), and others, should allow for phones to remain unlockable. Share your thoughts, express yourselves, and try to convince the industry that a bootloader is not the problem they should be worrying about.

I’ll start it off by tossing out this idea – if network experience is one of the major reasons for trying to keep a phone locked down, why get an exclusive on the Galaxy Nexus? As a device that only comes one way, unlockable, I can’t imagine a phone that could potentially do more damage to a network, assuming custom software can even do such a thing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001245820068 Andrew Bissel

    Were the ones that payed for the specific peice of hardware. they can make it against their warranty but its not right to keep us from doing anything.

  • Alan Paone

    Unlock for the user experience. The only people a locked bootloader protects are people who don’t care and don’t need protection in the first place. It really hurts the ones who do care though.

    My first android was a motorola milestone. It was an OG Droid with a GSM radio, and a locked bootloader. When I got it, Froyo was all the rage, and a quick perusal of xda showed that there was an unofficial Cyanogenmod6, I thought “Cool, The bootloader isn’t keeping us from the new hotness! I’m safe to get this phone.” The phone I bought was bricked, the guy had thought there was no difference between a Milestone and a Droid. It took a little finagling, but I had it running by the end of the night.
    The honeymoon was short lived. Because of the locked bootloader, the milestone used 2ndInit; a complicated hack that could load custom android builds, but was restricted to using kernels that were signed by motorola, either official or leaked. Because of this, even when Gingerbread came out, we were on a kernel that was meant for eclair. Most performance comes from the kernel, not android, so even though we had gingerbread, it ran like eclair. When Froyo finally started to leak (months after gingerbread’s release), it was plagued by bugs. The camera was slow and crashed often, multitasking was nearly impossible, and worst of all, the Display Serial Interface crashed several times per day, causing a hard reboot fo the phone. I was lucky and only saw an average of one DSI error daily, but some people couldn’t use their phones.
    In February 2011, motorola released Froyo for the milestone, nine months after the Droid’s Froyo update; DSI errors, crashy camera, and overheating issues included. They called it an optional update because it basically broke the phone, it was much less stable than eclair, they really just wanted to shut us up. Of course, the Droid didn’t have as much trouble with Froyo and devs decided to figure out what was wrong. It turned out to literally be a single line of code in the froyo kernel. If memory serves, it changed a zero to a one or a one to a zero. It was there for the Droid and missing for the Milestone. The fix would’ve taken a fraction of a second to type out some code. Motorola didn’t do it, and since they were the only ones who could, devs were in a tough place. Its possible to add things to a kernel, programmers can create kernel modules that add features, but they’re complex and buggy. To add our one line took 3 months, and several hundred lines of code by a dedicated, hardworking developer and it only somewhat worked. When I finally gave up on my milestone and bought a nexus S, the fix was on its tenth iteration, version 2.something. He had to do all that work to fix a bug that motorola added to the code. He spent many sleepless nights not adding features like compcache or new camera settings, just slavishly fixing bugs.

    Whenever Droid-life asks who we would like to see make the next nexus, I scream out “Motorola! Please! It would be wonderful to be able to love a motorola again”. I loved my milestone, but it couldn’t love me back because it was locked into motorola’s hateful, buggy, and unfixable software. I’m a natural tinkerer. Even if the motorola ROM was perfect, I wouldn’t’ve been satisfied, no tinkerer ever is. We need to experience our phones this way. In the nexus world, we tolerate bugs because most of the time, we added them, and we have the ability to fix them. I tell people not to buy motorola phones because my experience with them was saddening and maddening. Stop making me buy crappy, uninspired samsung phones and make something great, and if you screw up, its okay, but let me fix it myself.

  • mule03331

    Don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t really care if my bootloader is locked or not. I had a Gnex for about 3 weeks, and had a Razr before, and a Razr Maxx after. I really didn’t see a whole lot of difference in the 2 as far as performance or the ways I could customize it. I have a few friends that are always jumping on the “next best thing” as far as ROM’s and such. When I play with their phones, they don’t really do anything differently than my stock phone does. You still have to press an icon to get an app to open, still have to hit the phone icon to make a call. About the only difference is that their icons might be green and I have the stock icons. I’m not bagging on the “gotta have the newest thing” guy, But my point is rooted, stock, Rom’med non rom’med. The phones do the same thing.

    • Alan Paone

      Rooters are the sort of people who obsess about the subtle differences. For example, I go completely insane without the sapphire toggles and T9 dialer from cyanogenmod. The 4×4 grid on my homescreen drives me nuts, even though its not that different from 5×4. My phone still works great with stock, but it isn’t exactly the way I like. Since I know I can change it, I have to.

  • http://twitter.com/figmentmnj Tim B.

    I think we need to look at the motivation for locking down the boot loaders to begin with, and it has nothing to do with their network other the money they can make. Let’s look for a moment at the data that Carrier IQ or Motoblur Collect beyond the normal security problems like keystroke capabilities.

    They wanted to charge more for Tethering, but rooting a phone gets you that much. However, with Carrier IQ, Motoblur, HTC Sense, ect. they can collect data to show you are tethering by having your phone tell on you…. Or pretty much anything they want to know about what you do with your phone.

    It has a lot of marketable data about YOU that does not violate wiretap laws or require a warrant. It also allows them to provide easy access to data collected that way without the need for a warrant or court order (possibly not sure about the legality here since they can get around some it via EULAs and Contracts).

    AT&T and Verizon (eventually T-Mobile and Sprint will as well) want everyone to move to tiered data plans, you won’t have a choice soon. Run a stock rom for a few months. Then run an AOSP rom for a few months. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ve noticed a difference in the amount of data is used. An AOSP ROM such as AOKP or CM uses much less data then a stock rom. It wasn’t in the form of several hundreds of Megs of Data for me when I switched my Motoblur device over to AOKP (I saw close to a 300 – 400 meg a month data use drop). May not seem significant, but when you look at a 2gig data plan that’s a big savings.

    Relying on old methods of collecting data about your usage is great, for them if you’re on Cellular connection, but as more and more of us are using Wifi, Certain information would be lost to the carrier since it wouldn’t actively pass through their network. Information which Motoblur, Carrier IQ and the like can continue to collect while you are on Wifi, and send back to the carrier.

    Now in addition, I’m willing to bet, those that make the decision do not understand what the different types of unlocking are, I’ve heard from people that should be in the know, equate unlocking the bootloader with carrier unlocking allowing you to use another service when traveling. They REALLY don’t want you doing that, instead they prefer to have you spend money using their international roaming services.

  • http://twitter.com/Soymasloco Tony Hernandez

    It’s my phone after I buy it to do with as i wish just like my desktop computer and laptop. Microsoft or dell don’t have the right to tell me what os I can put on them.

  • Richeek

    Handsets sold in retail SHOULD be left unlocked. Its not subsidized neither is it locked to any carrier.

  • http://twitter.com/manicsocratic Adan H.

    Phone bootloaders should never be locked in the first place. Verizon and the like have forced phone manufacturers to hurt their bottom lines by making that accommodation. Think of the money required to develop & test a locked bootloader solution. Verizon gets all the benefit while the OEM wasted time & money doing something that hurts device usability/repairability.

  • Davros

    My biggest reason would be being able to load streamlined roms that will keep my phone current instead of being stuck with an outdated phone for 2 years.
    2nd would be for customization of the UI to better fit how I use the phone.
    3rd help stop the practice of only being able to load “their” apps when I would probably use both apps anyway. ( see also the google wallet/verizon debacle) :)

  • TheOiulkj

    Because I pay the same amount of money for a phone as I do a laptop, both of which use the same network. If you tried to sell me a laptop with a locked bootloader, I would smack you in the neck with my wallet then walk out of the store.

  • chris125

    Until they do away with subsidizing phones sadly the phone isn’t truly yours. If they went with a model like Europe and others do we wouldn’t have these problems.

  • aldr01d

    because is my phuking phone thats why greedy “corporations”!

  • Bob

    I could care less if my phone is locked or unlocked. Just want regular software updates for phones like the Atrix that are still on gingerbread and could run ICS without any issues

  • Cicimac

    Leaving a phone unlock able could show carriers what customers actually want and don’t want. If companies actually provided what customers want there would be no reason to unlock. Why should a customer have to carry around unremoveable apps on their phone?Wouldn’t it behoove Verizon to have their customers actually enjoy owning one of their phones? Customers want to control things like fonts, apps.customers don’t want to have to wait for updates when the updates can be downloaded right away.
    I don’t see what gives these service providers the right to control our phones in this way.arent we buying them? Isn’t this a form of censorship?
    Verizon and Motorola have to get with it and realize what consumers really want.if Motorola put any ingenuity into the apps they are trying to force people to use maybe they could create something incredible, Something we wouldn’t mind having stuck on our phones. Until that time comes, the world will find away to circumvent this system.
    These companies are making money hand over fist. Give it up greedy Verizon!,co

  • Justin Swanson

    I am going to attempt to read all of these comments but I thought I would share this.

    Most of you have probably heard of DD-WRT. It is a custom router firmware. Well Linksys by Cisco had a great little router that was very EASY to flash DD-WRT. (I don’t know the model) but it was selling like hot cakes to the power user developer community because it gave them greater control of their router. So what do you think Linksys/Cisco does? They stop selling it. Yep, that’s right. Instead of raising the price (just a little bit :P) or even working a “voiding your warranty” message into the router box, they upright and stop selling it. EVEN THOUGH PEOPLE WANTED TO BUY IT.

    Let’s compare this situation with the locked bootloaders: Phones that are easy to unlock (I am guessing) sell better than those that don’t. There will ALWAYS be flagship devices that might be exempt to this but I bought a GNex because of the developer support behind it. I wanted that. I think a lot of people are like that. (at least people who can’t buy a new device every 6 months). I purchased a SGS1 (Korean Model) and a Sony Tablet S before. I don’t use either of them anymore because of the experience I get with Custom ROMs from my GNex.

    The only argument I see AGAINST custom ROMs/firmware/locked bootloaders is user experience. The company is likely concerned that users will (to burrow from one of the greatest movies ever) “shoot their eye out”. What they fail to realize is, not everyone is out there rooting their ROM, flashing new bootloaders, flashing new ROMs daily/nightly. Only the power users will be doing that, and they are DOING IT ALL READY.

    Most of their networks (I imagine) are beefy enough to support any additional traffic a custom ROM might cause (I am assuming that you want the unlocked bootloader to flash custom ROMs). I know here in Korea they had some issues when they started unlimited 3g but I think that has been fixed. I am not aware of any problems any of the US/Euro Telcos are having.

    In closing, I wish the companies would see that phones that have a good following will likely sell very well. No one wants a device no one uses. They want a devices that makes them the cool guy at the party. I can’t imagine a lot of people can buy the new and the best, so they go with something that is proven to be good.

    TL;DR: My guess is that unlocked bootloaders will assist the sale of all ready popular phones. The only trade off is possible lose of user experience which looks bad on the company, not the idiot that bricked his phone.

    • http://twitter.com/jamenlang Jamen T. Lang

      they stopped selling all of the wrt54g/gl/gs’s because they’re old as balls. I don’t think that they pulled them because they were popular amidst the modding community.

  • http://www.goosio.com/ Adam Siekmann

    Verizon can’t care THAT much about unlocked bootloaders…they still have commercials selling the GNex

  • root4life

    First this is my phone. Secondly how many more phones would they end up selling if you at least had the option of a smartphone with the boot loader unlocked. This is a good thing.

  • larry harper

    Unlocked bootloaders means less sales and less money ,read though the posts..if mine was… i could do this and that, run a custom rom..well thats what they sell you PHONES,people get tired of waiting for updates and upgrades when you can buy a new phone with it installed..look back at the OG Droid ,still lots of those working, running custom roms and heck almost as good as hardware..oc..undervolt..we mod our phones to have the latest and greatest stuff which we get long before the carriers and manufactures give us..I too would be using my trusty Droid X if i could..lol.. only reason for HTC..they have lower sales right now..apple,Moto and Sammy ..are doing ok but if the money stops flowing for any of them then they might have a unlock option…best thing to do is get off contract and buy the very best you can afford and not get locked in a phone for 2 yrs!!!! ;)

    • JustAnAngryJOE2

      While i will concur with the less sales and less money angle, i would also like to say if thats the case than the least VZW can do is keep a consistent schedule of sw updates for the devices they are selling, Heck they even acknowledge a know issue with the Gnex dropping outgoing audio and have yet to release the update that samsung provided them with almost 4 months ago.

  • Amenemhat1

    The answer is simple: Greed. If you’re phone is always up-to-date and can last all day, then corps can’t sell you more crap to buy. Locking bootloaders reinforces the 2-yr phone upgrade cycle, where in essence a device like the moto’s zoom (almost 3 yrs old) can run JB with no problem… it is not a matter of function, it is a matter of consumerism and how much money corps can usurp.

    • Tyler Chappell

      Why in the world do people keep thinking the Xoom is so much older than it is? First 2.5 years, now 3? Derp.

      • Amenemhat1

        Hence, the statement “(almost 3 yrs old)”

        • TylerChappell

          Except it is nowhere near “almost 3 yrs old”.

  • http://twitter.com/jamenlang Jamen T. Lang

    my phone is running 4.1.1 and it would NEVER see an official 4.1.1

  • http://www.goosio.com/ Adam Siekmann

    It is much much harder to brick a device doing a simple “fastboot oem unlock” than it is by trying to get around an encrypted bootloader

  • http://twitter.com/jamenlang Jamen T. Lang

    When something breaks, there’s no option but to restore it with the stock firmware, my htc incredible 2 used to reboot with stock firmware/kernel, every time you pressed the power button, flashing a new kernel fixed that problem and i won’t see a real update on this phone until the end of the month.

    Thanks modding community!

  • http://www.facebook.com/stevenberger Steven Berger

    What is the network experience? The network for my phone, Verizon, has nothing to do with the experience of my phone except that they give me service…everything else is Motorola.

  • noc007

    Why not? Seriously, I’d like to see a fully qualified reason why the bootloader needs to be locked without the option to unlock. I understand locking it be default for securing the user experience (anti-malware) and keeping most idiots from bricking their phones, but one should be able to unlock their phone if they so choose and accept the risk for their actions.

    Screwing up the carrier’s network is not a valid reason. First, if it’s possible for one rogue phone to ruin all connections to a tower or the whole network, there should be security measures in place to prevent that. Second, VZW is moving their customers to usage billing so it won’t matter if Joe Dumass burns through his block in a day.

  • Knlegend1

    Why should Companies Like Motorola And Verizon Allow You to Unlock Bootloaders? Because its your phone. The whole purpose of having an Android phone is for it’s openess. We only want Verizon’s Network and Motorola’s Radios, Maxx Battery. Verizon can continue to screw those people over who think that they need VZW Navigator that’s fine with me. For those in the know, well they should have the right to custom their phone however they see fit. Besides they’ll just find a way around it anyhow. Stop making it hard. We don’t want your bloat when almost everything Google offers is free and works a hell of lot better. Basically its your phone.

  • rockstar323

    I don’t think it’s “us” Verizon worries about having phones with unlocked bootloaders, I think it’s the “normal” consumers. I know plenty of people that have asked me to root their phone because someone told them they need to root it to make it “better” but they have no idea why. I’m sure Verizon CS has received plenty of calls from people who have screwed up their phones because someone else rooted it for them and they don’t understand what they did. Honestly, I won’t root anyone’s phone but my own. If they want to do it I will point them In the right direction and even help them out but you shouldn’t root it unless you know what you’re doing and what you’re getting yourself into. Say you root someone’s phone for them and they install a malicious app that wants SU, if they don’t understand the consequences they could open themselves up to trouble. Personally I don’t think you should unlock the bootloader and root unless you do it through ADB. The one clicks make it too easy. When I rooted my OG Droid I did it through ADB. I read and re-read all the instructions very carefully to make sure I did it right it also gave me respect for the process. Hell I’ve seen posts on XDA and Rootz with people saying, “I’m very familiar with rooting but I accidentally borked it”. I’m very comfortable rooting but I’ve made mistakes before just being careless. Just the other day I was installing a new ROM after cleaning my SD card, I wiped data and system but forgot to move my ROM onto my phone. Did I freak? No, I just pushed it to the phone in recovery through ADB, people who don’t know what they’re doing or where to go for help are stuck calling Verizon. I have friends that root and flash roms all the time that have been in similar situations and have had to call me to help them because someone else rooted their phone for them or they used a one click.

    This isn’t an argument for Verizon locking bootloaders, I think all of them should be unlockable. I just understand the problem it could cause them when someone who doesn’t know what they are doing screws up their phone and needs Verizon to help them.

    tl;dr:
    Don’t root unless you know what you’re doing and/or what potential risks you’re taking.
    ADB is your friend.
    Verizon is going to do what causes them the least amount of headaches.

  • Lucky Armpit

    I really do think Verizon’s excuses of “user experience” and “danger to the network” or whatever verbage they have used is simply a smokescreen for knowing that the FIRST things most devs do with custom ROMs is remove that horrible VZW bloatware that the vast majority of us will never want or use. My point is, an unlocked bootloader makes it easier for a user to flash a custom ROM without their bloat. I can’t imagine that enough people on VZW’s network actually use that crap software to where it’s profitable but I guess so because they keep pushing it on us.

  • JustAnAngryJOE2

    Well Seeing how Verizon has pretty much done away with Tech support and the guys at there call center are just as crappy, allowing the dev community to unlock their devices for one gives us free roam to fix our device. For those that don’t know what there doing of course that will be an ongoing issue but oh well, its not like they dont have the know how to be able to not tell when software is tampered with VZW just likes taking the easy route and make it ok to be stupid when working for them. Either way though like stated by others, unlocked bootloader= better user experience for device cause we essentially can truly customize our device to our liking, and get rid of any crapware thats actually holding our device back..EX: Pretty much any VZW 3rd party software. To be honest with an unlocked device i dont see how its messing up VZW nwk since they usually are more concerned about their high swap rate anyway. Oy all i can say is with unlocked devices one can truly get their money’s worth out of their device

  • http://infotainmentempire.blogspot.com Rob

    If Verizon can prove to me a real good reason why they are locked (like if unlocked bootloaders took twice as long to certify the software, which is probably total BS anyway) then I would understand.

    Other than that, it’s totally ridiculous. It’s MY phone, not theirs. I can understand them having issues with free tethering (for those with unlimited accounts) via rooting but that’s it. They could easily have a separate agreement saying you promise not to get “free” services.

    Hell, unlocking bootloaders makes it easier for people to throw custom ROMs on their phone – the people who actually care about timely OS upgrades would be a little quieter since they can do it themselves with more ease if the bootloader is unlocked. I know you can work around it, but unlocked bootloaders make the world a better place.

  • EDNYLaw

    First let me start off by saying I’m an attorney with EXTENSIVE federal experience. I wrote this complaint (https://docs.google.com/document/d/109uYmho_6daIpAl0ACPSFoK0qrd6K9wp5yeqM7dEaoI/edit) and sent it to the FCC which NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office pursued with the FCC and it is my belief that the FCC’s ruling on Verizon blocking tethering apps and Google wallet is founded in part on the research and analysis I did in for that complaint. So I encourage people to read it as it gets into the details of C Block regulations and locked bootloaders.

    Second, it only benefits companies and Verizon to have unlocked bootloaders. Having had many devices (OG Droid, Droid X, Xoom, Droid Razr and GNex) I can say that I will NEVER buy a phone with a locked bootloader again. Even if you take the fact that a permanent brick is possible off the table, if you bootloop on a locked bootloader you have to fastboot back, reroot and nandroid back. For inexperienced users, they may just make an insurance claim, driving up prices for all and causing Verizon technical support (I use the term loosely because they’re by and large useless) untold headaches. Even for me, an experienced crackflasher, I get a little edgy when messing with my mom’s Droid Razr as I know that if I screw it up it’s going to be at least a half hour to an hour messing with it to get it up and running. Between the Xoom and the Gnex, life is a breeze. If I bootloop I boot into TWRP and restore a nandroid and I’m good to go. I don’t worry about bricking my phone because (basically) it’s unbrickable (I say that with a grain of salt as Droid Th3ory and DHO have both managed to hard brick their GNex but they’re devs and thus a different story).

    Verizon’s excuses are getting pathetic. It affects other customer experiences? Really? Then why release phones with unlocked bootloaders at all? They have, and presumably if they get anymore Nexus phones, they will continue to release phones with unlocked bootloaders. I have yet to see any “impact” in terms of my unlocked bootloader affecting anyone on Verizon’s network. Now that the FCC seems to actually be enforcing it’s regulations (I take a little credit for that as I’ve been sending countless emails to Julius Genachowski and the other commissioners pestering them about Verizon’s abuses) I think Verizon’s stance may loosen up a little as they begin to release the hacker/modder community is bigger than they thought, and if they keep trying to limit what we can do, we’ll move to networks that offer greater flexibility. Especially in light of Verizon’s “shared data” plan that is nothing more than a marketing scheme aimed at getting people to switch to a more expensive plan and when VoLTE hits, those that switched are going to pay a FORTUNE as voice will now be data, which guess what you share with every single person on your plan now. Good luck with that.

  • http://twitter.com/CoolEpoet Ernie

    it would be advantageous of carriers to unlock devices that are outside of warranty and no longer supported. They can only gain from keeping a customer. What happens if a person with a really old phone like the OG droid finds that their untouched bootloader-locked phone just stopped working. Aren’t they forced to upgrade anyway?

  • LiterofCola

    Meh.

  • http://www.facebook.com/collin.chapin.7 Collin Chapin

    Void my warranty and then let me do whatever I want with it.

    That’s all there is to it.

  • Nate Davidson

    I say because it’s the nature of Android, and because the things we can customize on the software side is what sets Android aside from the competition. Also, with unlocked boot loaders comes community support with a device. Devices like Motorola’s take FOREVER to get updates. If the community can provide their own open-source support, devs from the company can take these bits freely from the community to improve their own software.

  • Tristan Cunha

    I guess companies can sell whatever they think will be most profitable. Locking the bootloader is a no brainer in the short term, if nothing else it means less calls to customer service after someone breaks their phone. And they’re not even in the business of selling phones, they actually lose money selling phones to get people to sign contracts for their network.
    In the long term its all about demand, if there are enough people out there that want unlocked phones, than someone is going to serve that market. So far the Nexus phones have probably captured a decent amount of that market, but it seems like there’s a ton of interest in other phones too.
    As far as the idea of protecting the network, well, there seems to be plenty of ways to mess with the network without having an unlocked bootloader. And isn’t network security/integrity something they should be handling from their end? I don’t try to make sure everyone else has anti-virus software installed on their computers to keep them from sending me a virus. This whole “protect the network” seems like a flimsy excuse, when what they really want to do is “protect our revenue streams” i.e., pay to tether services and any pre-installed apps that generate a revenue stream
    Besides, doesn’t Verizon have to allow any device to operate on their network since they purchased their 4g spectrum? If they’re selling one device with an unlocked bootloader it seems like any other device would pass any tests to operate on their “open” network as well.