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Should manufacturers crack down on locking bootloaders?

One of the driving forces behind the Android platform is the ability to root your devices, which gives you root directory access, and subsequently allows you to grant superuser permissions that can be used for a vast number of tasks. More often than before, people are understanding that rooting gives them the ability to use their devices hardware, while simultaneously running a different version of software, or a ROM; not to mention that when developers get a leak of a software update, the collaborative efforts between them, usually found on, help to shape up and minimize bugs, and remove unnecessary applications that are woven in by the device manufacturer, resulting in better performance.

This brings about a problem, however; though it is not illegal to root your phone and install a ROM, companies have caught on to this movement, so-to-speak. The ability to install a ROM leaves almost no reason for the consumer to wait for a company to release an update, therefore shifting the playing field. This leads companies to believe locking the bootloader, which ultimately disables any type of rooting, in a way, is the only method of stopping what a large part of the Android community loves to do – flash, and boast about the ability to do so.

Continue after the break

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons:

  • Pros
  1. Consumers actually taking into consideration whats under the hood – All to often the consumers are concerned about the exterior aesthetics of the device, not taking into consideration what power it may or may not hold.  When you root a device, you can overclock it to unleash it’s full potential – not to mention flashing an Android Open Source Project ROM, like Cyanogen for the Droid Incredible, can itself demonstrate a dramatic, at times phenomenal improvement in usability and speed.  This can in turn lead the consumer to read more thoroughly, thus purchasing a more expensive device later down the road in anticipation of what the device can do when flashed with a non device-specific ROM.
  2. Community Updates – Community developers are able to put forth collaborative efforts based on leaked updates, and furnish a polished ROM usually at a significantly faster rate than it is pushed out from the actual carrier/manufacturer.
  3. Adjusting Clock Frequencies and Voltages via Custom Kernels – Many times with these new “superphone” devices, the battery life is compromised due to the kernel being configured the proper way, or rather, the way deemed “safe” by the manufacturer. Being rooted gives you the option to download CPU applications, which then give you the ability to change clock frequencies and or voltages provided you have a kernel with the ability to do so. These days, developers from XDA have created kernels with “governors” that are smart enough to change the clock frequencies when the screen goes off, and lower the voltage when watching a video, among other things, which help save battery life and add to the life cycle of your device.
  4. Free Debugging, Troubleshooting and Testing – This speaks for itself. These people put in extensive hours creating ROMs and solidifying the state of leaks, and the community, or rather, community and consumer flash these and almost always report back with issues or findings. This information can be useful in finalizing the manufacturer’s official update.
  • Cons:
  1. Manufacturer UI losing popularity – Let’s face it: if it isn’t Sense UI, it usually isn’t well liked. User interfaces such as Samsung’s Touchwiz and Motorola’s Motoblur have been subject to some rather tough criticism. With the ability to change those interfaces, as well as the theme on top of them, consumers might not find a need to ever stand behind a specific manufacturer.
  2. Consumers holding on to devices through new launches – When new devices are released, the new trend that is forming has portrayed them as  carrying a modified or face-lifted version of their original user interface, and small incremental changes to their hardware. Many consumers have been holding on to their older devices because they have no need to buy a new one when the old can be made to run like new with software updates available from within the community; i.e..: If you get tired of your Droid Incredible, flash the MIUI ROM. If you want Sense 2.3, wait for a port; so on and so forth. All too often you will see the “Why should I upgrade for a bigger screen?” type of argument posed within forums and twitter updates.
  3. Malicious activity – With all the positive having an unlocked bootloader can bring, it can also bring negative. With developers able to go inside of, and, quite literally tear down the very insides of what makes the software run, there is also the possibility that this can be used to make ROM’s and applications that will compromise the consumers product – sometimes without them even knowing.

Whatever side you are on, both consumers and manufacturers have been introduced to a new way of deciding how to approach the mobile world. From the stir that ROM’s like Cyanogen have caused becoming popular amongst the community and being seen as a “software replacement” rather than just a “ROM”, to the GeeksPhone being created for the purpose of flashing, the open source portion of Android is becoming subject to more and more scruitiny. Locking down the bootloaders might ensure that manufacturers keep their integrity, and a grip on the consumer, but it can also detract from what draws people to Android, and sometimes away from iOS; and that is the ability to do almost whatever they want, without getting in trouble for it. What do you think?

Chad O’Kelly [Twitter: @CFOKmobile]

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