The Android dev team has generally been assumed to have a passive stance on rooting and unlocking Android devices. That is, do it if you want - we won't stop you. And there's certainly evidence abound supporting this - Google's Nexus One could be unlocked via a simple ADB (Android Device Bridge) command: fastboot oem unlock. The same is true of the Nexus S.

Of course, it only makes sense - Google doesn't want to put any unnecessary barriers between Android developers and the open source OS, especially on developer phones.

But a new post on the official Android Developers Blog shows that team Android is a little more concerned with how their operating system is being used than some of us may have previously assumed. That is, they're concerned with how handset manufacturers are using it, and they don't sound thrilled.

Why? The reason your DROID X, or your HTC Incredible are so difficult to unlock (or were, rather) is not at all related to Google. Android enthusiasts can thank Motorola, HTC, and Verizon for the sleepless nights spent by community heroes like Birdman and Cyanogen poking away at potential security flaws on fully brand-butchered Android handsets.

Here's a part of that post that really stuck with me:

Unfortunately, until carriers and manufacturers provide an easy method to legitimately unlock devices, there will be a natural tension between the rooting and security communities.

We can only hope that carriers and manufacturers will recognize this, and not force users to choose between device openness and security.

It’s possible to design unlocking techniques that protect the integrity of the mobile network, the rights of content providers, and the rights of application developers, while at the same time giving users choice.

Users should demand no less.

That's a pretty bold statement, if you ask me. While carriers are charging for tethering and releasing their own branded Android markets, and manufacturers are locking down their devices with increasingly draconian security measures, community developers are on what seems like a daily a basis making it easier to thwart those designs.

Why the big fuss? Wireless carriers are holding fast to the "various services" model of rates and fees, while smartphones are making it increasingly apparent that the carrier is nothing more than a means to an end: the sending and receiving of bytes. Manufacturers have to cave to the demands of the carrier to receive subsidy pricing benefits - and thus implement the security measures needed to meet those demands.

So how does this relate to rooting? It's all dollars and senselessness. What do I get with a rooted and/or custom ROM-ed Android phone that a carrier doesn't want me to?

  • Free tethering: $15 a month lost
  • VOIP/SIP calling: I only need the cheapest minute plan
  • No carrier crapware: can't sell me those garbage add-on services
  • Control: any crackdowns will lead to lost customers

Maybe that puts things in perspective a little bit more. On top of that, think about how many add-on services Android and Google's Android app suite have culled from your phone's monthly bill. Voice mail transcription and storage? Google Voice. Exchange e-mail? Built in. GPS and navigation? Standard feature. Ringtones? Don't make me laugh. Being a power user just isn't as expensive anymore, and that's frightening to the mobile regime.

The times - they are a-changin'.

Source: Android developers blog

Image credit: ~Seele-Zerkleinerungs

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

    It's refreshing to finally hear Google's official position on this oh so important issue. About time they chimed in.

  • http://www.slipshft.com Slipshft

    While it's nice to see this in writing, it is superfluous at best. The carriers will continue to bully the manufacturers to lock down as much as possible for their bottom line, and the manufacturers will comply to get the unit volume. Until the carriers have no leverage, manufacturers will continue to bow to their cash.

  • http://osireztech.blogspot.com/ Michael Malott

    Im glad Google voiced a stance which we should have known seeing that theyve been big supporters of open source in other arenas. But what is and what isnt legal?

    Theres several different points here. Consumer rights. Consumers have been fighting the fight when it comes to consumer products and what you can & cant do with them for a while now. Especially in the tech arena.

    Androids open source licence. How far can the carriers go to lock down software that is supposed to be open to the public? The way I see it they cant refuse the modification of Android but can control their networks.

    The infrastructure of carrier industry seems to be a pile of legal loop holes exploited by them at our expense. It seems in all the major markets overseas that they have a more consumer friendly cellular industry. Basically by your phone and then choose your carrier.

    I dont claim to be an expert or a lawyer for that matter but these are just some of the more obvious flaws with this subject in my opinion.

  • sjpm

    The carriers need to realize they are the string between the two cans. Nothing more and nothing less.

    Any attempts to be more than that are bound to piss off paying customers and attract regulatory attention.

    Same with ISPs, but I digress.

  • AceoStar

    They really have to start this argument now. Two years from now, when Android natively lets you make your calls from Wifi and the phones don't need a carrier. They'll need this argument to keep them selling the devices :p

  • mwichmann

    As a user, I definitely want open, but the carriers aren't just going to give up their revenues (especially if they've let them go to Goog instead!), so we'll just end up paying for different stuff, in different ways. I expect, for example, that various services obtained through the carrier by an app (such as, say, "give me an accurate location lookup") will incur a micropayment that will eventually land on your bill. Flat rate plans are going to be history.