Does Android’s Open OS Actually Mean ‘Closed to Users’?
You’ve heard the argument before: Android is open and iOS is closed, so would you rather live free with Google or inside the walled garden of Apple? It’s a good argument, one with deep philosophical roots. But what happens when carriers and vendors take the ‘openness’ of Android and use it to close the user out? It happens more often than you might think …
Motorola has taken a firm stance against users rooting their Android phone — or giving themselves ‘root,’ or admin access, to system files to change things that normally are marked ‘read only.’ In July 2010 it was made known that toying with the Droid X’s bootloader would completely and automatically brick the phone (or, for those of us who don’t speak hacker, lock it permanently). It caused much ire in the Android community, but according to the Droid Forum it, too, was eventually circumvented. But without obtaining root-level privileges, users can’t customize their Android distribution, put on custom ROMs/OSes or be on the bleeding edge of Google’s Android distribution. That leaves them at the mercy of Motorola’s and/or Verizon’s schedule of over-the-air updates.
Adding more fuel to the fire is a recent comment made by a Motorola representative in response to viewers’ comments regarding a recent YouTube video promoting the upcoming a Motorola Atrix 4G promo video. Responding to comments about hacking/rooting, the Motorola rep (whose screen name is @tdcrooks) replied:
if you want to do custom roms, then buy elsewhere, we’ll continue with our strategy that is working thanks. – motorola
Oops. Looks like someone didn’t go through the PR department. But then Motorola did some damage control, responding after another commenter called out Motorola for deleting the comment (this time from Motorola rep @daverod74):
So we attempt to answer nearly all comments raised on this channel across over 130 videos and in a timely fashion. Sometimes we make a mistake, and the remark [from @tdcrooks] we agree could have been better phrased and more polite. So we do apologise, and that we will continue to monitor feedback on the wider discussion and pass that along. Thank you.
Motorola also “understood” and acknowledged another commenter, who said he (or she) would drop support of Motorola devices altogether if it continued putting heavy locks on its phones.
An even more egregious move to some in the Android community, AT&T locked down the HTC Aria from installing apps from outside the Android app store. Android’s ability to install any package from anywhere on the ‘net is one of its strong points and is what makes it very ‘open.’ In essence, AT&T stripped the Android phone of the very thing that made it special. Thankfully, that feature, too, has been hacked to obtain root, and users can get this feature back.
Still, beyond the nerd-level desire for root, users are well aware that Android’s ‘openness’ also makes it a breeding ground for carriers to gunk up and pre-load a bunch of bloatware. The HTC Aria comes with AT&T apps installed, most of which require subscription services for their use while their free counterparts are readily available on the Android Marketplace. Verizon isn’t as bad, but who really cares about VCast? Suddenly, Apple’s ‘walled garden’ doesn’t seem so awful — at least you know what you’re getting yourself into.
Bottom line? Carriers and vendors love Android for completely different reasons than users do. For the purest, most open Google experience available, the Google Nexus S is a good choice. The other option? Research which phones are the most easily hacked or open before buying.