HTC quietly locked

Conspiracy theorists would have you believe that the ThunderBolt's signed (and locked) bootloader was all Verizon's doing, but it appears that isn't quite the case - the Incredible S, one of HTC's unlocked GSM phones, is shipping with a similar failsafe system. That basically means no custom ROMs for you (at least until a viable workaround is discovered).

Proof? Look no further than the contents of this Incredible S RUU:


From what our friends at AndIRC can tell (note that they don't have a device in hand), the Incredible S includes a signature check much like the one on the ThunderBolt. It kicks in if you somehow manage to flash a custom recovery image to your phone and will then proceed to examine the "signature" of said recovery image. If it's anything other than the stock HTC key, you won't be allowed to access recovery. Just as with the ThunderBolt, that means you won't be able to flash custom ROMs - exactly why HTC designed this system.

But why has HTC, previously the most dev-friendly manufacturer of them all, suddenly turned against the modders? We asked the company this exact question at CTIA, only to be told that they are just catering to carriers' interests. We have a hard time believing this, however, as the Incredible S is, again, an unlocked GSM device - therefore, it couldn't have been the carriers' fault. If you ask me, they're simply trying to decrease the number of users who pester customer support with devices that are bricked as a result of unsuccessful system modding. Or, of course, Peter Chou's long-lost evil twin could have seized power at HTC (which might also explain the firm's recent uncharacteristic lack of innovation).

Whatever the reason behind these actions may be, this probably marks the end of the dev-friendly HTC we've all come to know and love, and that breaks my geeky heart. Farewell, HTC. You will be missed.

Thanks to scotty2 for pointing this out!

Jaroslav Stekl
Jaroslav Stekl is a tech enthusiast whose favorite gadgets almost always happen to be the latest Android devices. When he's not writing for Android Police, he's probably hiking, camping, or canoeing. He is also an aspiring coffee aficionado and an avid moviegoer.

  • Donatom3

    I'm starting to believe they're doing this because of all the people who "brick" their phones with custom roms and then go to sprint, verizon, htc for warranty replacements.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/author/jaroslav-stekl/ Jaroslav Stekl


    • Mac

      Wow they really must put a lot of efforts into it to ACTUALLY be able to brick an Android phone..I've done horrendous things to mine while porting and hacking stuff and it's still standing..

      • http://robert.aitchison.org Robert Aitchison

        Another thing, the ability to load a custom ROM really extends the life of a device once a manufacturer has abandoned it (looking at you Motorola & Samsung). If your carrier and manufacturer refuse to provide an update for your device you can turn to a custom ROM to get the newest Android version where they would want you to replace your device.

        • http://droidsamurai.blogspot.com PixelSlave

          I think you actually speak to the root cause of the problem -- they don't want you to extend the life of their devices, period. They are hardware makers, after all.

          On the other hand, I try to put on their hats and I can't say I don't understand their fear. See, for Apple, it's fine if their users to keep their iPhone for a bit longer -- they have the App Store to generate the revenue. That's why they are more willing to provide update. But I don't hear any words from Google saying they would share the Market's revenue with the handset makers.

          May be this is one way Google can lure the handset makers and carriers into being more active when it comes to updating the OS?

        • NeilW

          Its not just about extending the useable life of the device - in the case of the HTC Desire, its making it more useable generally.
          Using the SD card for apps, upgrading to stock 2.3, using stock Android and getting more battery life.

    • http://robert.aitchison.org Robert Aitchison

      Of course I would suspect most of the time a device is "bricked" or broken in general from hacking is from failed attempts to root the devices.

      If the manufacturers had an easy, consistent method to obtain low level access to the phone rather than throw roadblocks up there would be no need to find and exploit vulnerabilities in the system.

      On a Nexus device it's as simple as booting into the bootloader and entering "fastboot oem unlock" That's a far cry from having to write hacked bootloaders and other code to specific areas of memory or other "exploit" root methods.

      IMO the excuses that they are tired of getting "bricked" devices or that the carriers force them to are thin. I think a more likely factor is that they want to force us to use their horrible skinned android interfaces rather than flash a custom ROM with vanilla Android.

  • mintvilla

    if sony moto and now htc lock their bootloaders, then that just leaves samsung?? maybe LG? - doesnt leave us much options, i have always stayed away from moto n sony because of this reason didnt want to stay away from htc though.

    Whats interesting though was several months ago the desire hd and desire z/g2 phones also had somthing which stopped you rooting, i beleive the term was perm rooting and semi rooting, Though i find it strange that the moto and sony bootloaders have yet to be cracked, while these htc ones seemed to have been cracked fairly easy?

    Also while i agree the whole returning bricked devices is the reason why they have done this, i wander how many bricked nexus ones there are? if we didnt have to do some complicating stuff to have root access and s-off, then there would be little danger to bricking devices.

    • Shabbypenguin

      the may moto did theirs was designed to be locked, htc tried it out with the g2/desirez and then tried to upgrade its strength for the evo shift but we have a working method now which really gave some insight on how to pass the thunderbolt's security

  • Justin Case

    Samsung hasn't done it to all devices, but from what I have been told it has been done to some unreleased ones, and at least one leaked firmware. Time will tell if it comes to market like that.

    I did not follow the DesireHD/Z stuff, but I believe it was just emmc locked. The Thunderbolt and Incredible S have that as well, in addition to checking for signed recovery and kernel images.

    The Thunderbolt process was not easy, it just fell right into place, seriously, everything fell just right for us.

    The nexus watermarks (places an unlock image on the bootloader screen) itself when unlocked I believe, and its generally considered a developer phone (ie less non developers get it i believe).

  • Ladislav Balik

    When i bought my first HTC smartphone, I was so excited. Great hardware, finely tuned, almost perfect. Such a freedom for modding, custom roms, etc. And now? I don't see any advantage againt competitionm, no more user-friendly modding. Now just the new Sense S full of bugs :-(
    Little question? Do you think it will have any easy solution to continue with custom roms, stuff like clockworkmod, etc.?

  • http://droidsamurai.blogspot.com PixelSlave

    Damn, it looks like the end of custom ROM ...

    • VTSkins

      Why do people not realize that the Droid2 and DX have been running custom ROM's forever now. What this is the "end" of as you ominously say, is custom kernels. It certainly changes the game (for now), but it's not "the end."

      • ZZ

        The "Custom ROMS" of the Droid 2/DX are more akin to skins than actual ROMs. The demise of custom kernels is indeed the demise of full custom ROMS.

        • http://droidsamurai.blogspot.com PixelSlave

          Yup. As far as I know, there won't be a real Gingerbread ROM unless Moto releases one. On the other hand, even an ancient OG Droid can run a true Gingerbread ROM like CM7 right now.

  • Zepplin76

    After reading moto1s posts I have to ask "didn't motorola have a bootloader signature check back on droid1 going forward?" If that's true this has been true for almost 2 years so the above listed phones are just 2 of many... but all the same I agree its probably due to bricked devices returned n refurbed...

  • Snowbdr89

    Id be curious to hear why they lock their phones, the real reason its lame you spend alot of money on a smartphone there for you should be able to do whatever you want with it!!! So is chevy going to start selling a vette with a lock so you cant go above 65 an they gloat about all the dual core phones but whats the point in having all that power when its locked down n loaded with bullshit hell ill go back to a flip phone if thats the case : )

  • L boogie

    This must be the next big thing with upcoming phones but I don't believe its the end of custom Roms but it would give the modding community the opportunity to bless the android universe with even better Roms and do away with unnecessary bloatware.... Btw, maybe htc could focus on things such as low memory bugs, battery issues etc then again wishful thinking

  • Jaime

    Great so lets take a look at our options:

    Moto: Locked down

    HTC: Locked down. Former favorite.

    Sammy: So-so, but do we really want to support a company thats so greedy and strong-arms carriers for updates?

    LG: Had an LG Dare. Thing still works great. Don't know about their Android reputation so I can't call judgement.

    • Shabbypenguin

      LG is amazing, they so far have only one true android device lineup in america the optimus s/t/v/c/m. the day they started to sell them source code was up, factory unlocked bootloader, almost stock aosp rom running on it.

  • humanio

    :( I'm been looking to replace my Moto Droid but would really like mod support, particularly Cyanogen. Bad news :/

    • http://droidsamurai.blogspot.com PixelSlave

      Same here. It looks like we can no longer enjoy the fun of waiting for a new CM release. Hopefully, by the time my contract is up, there is a new Nexus phone that's better than the Nexus S, which IMO is a big disappointment (no qHD, no dual core CPU, not even microSD -- I had a feeling that Google intentionally drop the cutting edge stuffs so that only developers would be interested in buying the Nexus S.)

      • GODZiGGA

        The Nexus S is a disappointment because it doesn't have a qHD screen or dual-core CPU? The phone came out in December! A phone with those specs didn't come out for another 2 months and even then the dual core specs mean nothing since it is running a highly unoptimized version of 2.2. Maybe Samsung could have pushed out what you were looking for but it would have been rushed and I doubt Google would want a Nexus phone running an unoptimized Android OS. I'll give you microSD but even that isn't THAT big of a deal with cloud storage and media streamers like AudioGalaxy or Subsonic.

        We will get a good dual core Nexus phone when 2.4 is released late spring/early summer.

        • Bluevoodo

          A nexus s with tegra 2 would of been horrible! Tegra 2 was a let down! Maybe a nexus with Omap 4 yay!

  • SiliconAddict

    The thing is if they wanted to they could design these phones to have ROM redundancy built in. Yes it would be more expensive. But dual ROMS are doable and from a user standpoint it makes dabbling with ROMS a much more fail safe practice. Hell if HTC wanted to they could license ROM manager and give users a select set of ROMs to play with. But no doubt that would cheese of carriers big time since 1. From a support standpoint multiple ROMS would be a nightmare, and frankly they make bank with all the **** they bundle in to the handset. If you can flash a ROM as easy as downloading an app that rev stream goes poof.

  • Wcked

    I almost got the htc TB, but no more htc for me.

  • Ron H in Schenectady

    @Justin Case: If it was possible with the TB, and if they're using the same signatures, wouldn't it be highly likely to be able to break it on other HTC devices?

  • http://about.me/seanprunka Sean Prunka

    I'm still willing to believe (perhaps naïvely) that it is still Big Red's doing. The Inc S is going to be sold in the US (via VZW) as the Inc 2. It was likely to be the easiest thing to do to have the signing required for both, to make maintaining the systems easier.

  • Bluevoodo

    HTC's true colors will show when we see the evo 3d's boot loader, this phone was meant for sprint so we will see...

  • http://www.christiantechsaz.com/ Aaron

    Well, the XOOM has an unlockable bootloader. What's going to happen now, is phones will be locked down, and they will release a phone/tablet every few months that can be unlocked and tweaked or even start making a dev line of phones. I think that they will start making a distinction between the line of phones for consumers and dev/modders. Probably talking a different price point and contract situations with the different phones. Just my take on things...

    • http://droidsamurai.blogspot.com PixelSlave

      I hope you are right. But the Xoom has an unlockable bootloader probably just because Google worked very closely with Motorola so that it is the first Honeycomb released to the market. Just like the original Droid, once Google pulls out, MotoBlur will be back in the next tablet.

  • jeff

    which is the font used in this screenshot??

    i want it in my PC!!

    • Avi

      Its the Ubuntu System font in 10.10

  • chinese


  • Hammerhead

    I won't buy a phone that forces me to deal with carrier bloatware and doesn't give me root access. If HTC continues down this path, the Inspire is the last of their phones I'll buy. Instead, they should be making it easier for users to change their ROMs, or at the least, offer a generic, unbranded ROM.

  • Nigel

    I found a way to crack it. Want in? It's actually simpler than you know. Ever heard of cluster computing? Someone suggested that huge numbers of users team up and cluster-bruteforce the 256-bit key.

    That's nonsense -- there's a better way that uses a more statistically feasible (and honest) approach. Simply cluster together and http://wakeuphtc.com .

    At least sign the petition. Simple as that. Every vote counts more than a dedicated bruteforcing system -- orders of magnitudes more so. And it literally takes a couple seconds.

    Best yet, tell everyone you know so this can be a reality. Guess how motorola decided to acquiesce? Public outcry from this very same petition source.

  • igarden

    My htc incredible s bootloader missing,so don't start booting power on!please help me!

  • http://gn2day.com/ Sanober Siddiqui

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