Mar 03 AT 7:59 PM Taylor Wimberly 24 Comments

Motorola to Milestone developers, “Buy HTC”

The Motorola Droid is a very hackable phone. It can be overclocked past 1 GHz and devs have even ported HTC’s Sense UI to the device. However, the Droid’s European cousin the Milestone does not share those same qualities.

The Motorola Milestone has a digitally signed firmware that is making it virtually impossible to load custom ROMs on the device. Developers have been asking for help on this issue and Motorola responded.

“We understand there is a community of developers interested in going beyond Android application development and experimenting with Android system development and re-flashing phones. For these developers, we highly recommend obtaining either a Google ADP1 developer phone or a Nexus One, both of which are intended for these purposes. At this time, Motorola Android-based handsets are intended for use by consumers and Android application developers, and we have currently chosen not to go into the business of providing fully unlocked developer phones.

Securing the software on our handsets, thereby preventing a non-Motorola ROM image from being loaded, has been our common practice for many years. This practice is driven by a number of different business factors. When we do deviate from our normal practice, such as we did with the DROID, there is a specific business reason for doing so. We understand this can result in some confusion, and apologize for any frustration.” Lori FraleighMotodev

Motorola has currently announced nine different Android handsets under twelve different names and the Droid is the only device to boot unsigned images. There was a specific business reason for doing so, but Motorola is not going to share those details. We think the “business reason” was Google decided the firmware on the Droid and they wanted it to be open.

The percent of customers who actually hack their phones is quite small (I’m guessing less than 2%), so don’t expect Motorola to change their practices anytime soon. It will be interesting to see what happens with the firmware on Motorola’s Android phone that is headed for the Google phone store.

For an example of how the development community can move a device forward look at what CyanogenMod has done for the Nexus One.

Via: Motorola Owners' Forum

Source: MOTODEV Blog

Taylor is the founder of Android and Me. He resides in Dallas and carries the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One as his daily devices. Ask him a question on Twitter or Google+ and he is likely to respond. | Ethics statement

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  • http://Website treefq

    The main reason I am interested in rooting phones is to remove the carrier junk that is just taking up space. Stuff I’d never use. Sprints NFL, NASCAR, Stocks, all the personal networking (tweet, facebook etc) and stuff like that. I do like the Motoroi though i doubt to see it at sprint.

  • http://Website Daniel

    Maybe I’m missing something, but as I recall, the Droid was rooted via a software exploit, just like the G1 and most other phones. So, there was no “business decision”, unless they made the exploit on purpose, which I find unlikely.
    Or is there an actual feature on the Droid that allows it to load unsigned ROMs even after all the security updates?

    • http://Website Mark

      I came here to post this. I too thought that custom roms on the Droid are possible thanks to a flaw in the update process, not any Motorola business decisions.

      • http://Website charrion

        The prevailing suspicion is just that, Motorola’s “business decision” was to release the Droid before they could lock it down like they did with the Milestone.

        Even the European Milestone can be rooted. The primary difference is in that signed bootloader that the European and Canadian Milestone have.

        Whether it was a conscious “business decision” or a mistake, the longshot is that the Milestone cannot run custom roms.

        The big problem for us in Canada is that, at present, it can’t even be rooted and unless Motorola changes their policy, that will be the same for every new Motorola Android device.

        Kind of makes me wonder about that 2.1 update for the Droid though. I’d be awfully concerned about Motorola trying to sneak a new signed bootloader under the door.

        • http://Website David

          And this is why I *definitely* won’t be loading the standard ROM from Motorola.

        • http://Website Daniel

          They didn’t “decide to release the Droid without locking down”, they did believe the device was properly secured. Since the Milestone came several weeks later, they had the time to fix that hole.

          So, yes, you can be quite sure the 2.1 update for the Droid will fix the hole. Just like G1 updates fixed the root background shell, then the root debug shell, and later the radio exploit.

          In the case of the G1, though, you could make your phone “re-exploitable” by downgrading the system (applying an official update to an earlier version). I’m not sure on what can be done with the Droid, as I’ve heard the Droid’s update system is diff-based, meaning your phone has to be on a specific state for the update to work (in other words, update 1234 only works on 1233, not on 1231 or 1300).

  • http://blog.gynecologistcobra.net Demi Adejuyigbe

    When you think about it, this is pretty smart on Motorola’s part, Forcing their users to use Motorola’s ROM gives them control of the ROM, which means they can dish out firmware updates with ease, without having to pass them through Google. Of course, it also means that they have full control of the ROM, which, for obvious reasons, isn’t too great. It also means that the software loads a bit faster, so Joe Consumer doesn’t exactly get a raw deal here. I think I could live with a locked ROM in exchange for a bit of a speed boost.

    • http://Website Nithin Jino

      or you can get a phone that can load unsigned code (like a ROM) and the dev can super optimize it and that will go faster then any stock rom. Then you can have to overclock it so you get an even more speed boost.

      I’m sorry but your little explanation of why moto made a smart choice with locking up their phone is just pure fail.

    • http://sipsik.net Andy S.

      … And this resulted in about an 2 month delay for the 2.0.1 update for us Europeans, which finally fixed the AF bug. You have to think about it:
      I got my milestone in Germany in November, the droid got the update in the beginning of December… I had to wait til’ second week of February to get the update. Fun eh?
      At MWC some people talked to Google’s Android staff. They said, that Google wanted to be able to re-flash the ROM, without Motorola. hence the unsigned boot-loader.
      Also the Milestone in Europe is not an “with Googleâ„¢” Device, Instead it’s one of the phones with the ‘No Strings Attached” yet Motorola Advertised them as the same phone and same model…

      • http://Website Subbie

        And how about South American not even getting 2.0.1? IT SUCKS. I bought this with the knowledge Motorola would suck but the community was strong, but then Motorola kept on sucking and blocked he community from doing anything.
        I hate this stupid company

  • Weeds

    Yeah this is pretty bad.
    The interesting part in the comment above is, that they intend their phones to be used by application developers.

    I’ve switched my Magic to the ION Rom from HTC the day I got the device and since that I am heavily using the Dev Tools application, Hierarchy Viewer etc…
    Which wasn’t possible on the Vodafone ROM. Another benefit is I can simply exchange libc to use a debug version allowing me to exactly track native allocations in my application.
    If the firmware is locked I can’t do any of these things on the phone (and I always prefered real devices over the emulator) – so I won’t even consider this to be an application developer phone.

    Thanks Moto, i’ll keep my HTC then…

  • unfeasible

    That was a very nice statement from Motorola.
    Why cant Apple be that civilised.

    Its unfortionate the phone wont be unlocked, though how they handled it makes sence.

    Well played.

  • http://Website banden

    What’s ironic is that the article ends with, “For an example of how the development community can move a device forward look at what CyanogenMod has done for the Nexus One.”

    Cyanogen is the person who closed the root exploit which is preventing the Canadians from even being able to root.

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