Jan 20 AT 10:10 AM Taylor Wimberly 66 Comments

Could Motorola’s new Android phones ship with an unlocked bootloader?

Motorola has long held the stance that their Android phones were not meant to be used as an operating system development platform. This story goes back almost a year ago when the Android community became upset that the Motorola Milestone could not load custom ROMs to which a Motodev employee responded, “We highly recommend obtaining either a Google ADP1 developer phone or a Nexus One, both of which are intended for these purposes.”

“Securing the software on our handsets, thereby preventing a non-Motorola ROM image from being loaded, has been our common practice for many years,” said Lori Fraleigh of Motorola. That same message was echoed yesterday on Motorola’s YouTube page where an employee responded to concerns about a locked bootloader by saying, “If you want to do custom roms, then buy elsewhere, we’ll continue with our strategy that is working thanks.”

After receiving lots of feedback from the community, it sounds like Motorola might be ready to change their position on locked bootloaders. Shortly after the YouTube comment was made, Motorola posted an apology on their Facebook page. “We are working closely with our partners to offer a bootloader solution that will enable developers to use our devices as a development platform while still protecting our users’ interests. More detailed information will follow as we get closer to availability.”

Nick Kralevich, an engineer on the Android Security Team, has previously said that it is possible to design a safe unlocking technique for Android phones and users should demand it. Mr. Kralevich wrote, “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.”

Hopefully this is a sign that Google and Motorola are working together to solve this problem.

Is gaining legitimate root access to your device an important feature you would like to see in your next phone? Let us know what you would like to see Motorola do when it comes to their current bootloader policy.

Via: Droid Life

Source: Facebook

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://adomanico01.blogspot.com/ Anthony Domanico

    Unlocked… if nothing else so that I can get Blur off of there when I buy the Bionic ;)

  • http://www.officeal.com Brendan O’Neil

    I am on a rooted OG Droid right now and would consider root access to be a major factor in choosing my next device. The Cyanogenmod team is much faster to offer the latest flavor of stock Android than any manufacturer (currently running the nightly CM7 build based on Gingerbread), I also like the ability to delete the bloatware carriers or manufacturers put on the machine.

    • http://Website Nick

      ^^^^^^ dam skippy. What he said. ^^^^

      • http://Website lazycoder9000

        Damn skippy indeed xD

    • http://www.toysdiva.com PixelSlave

      Can’t agree more.

      I won’t buy an Android phone the moment it hits the market from now on. It’s better to wait for a couple months and see if there’s any major community development effort going on.

      BTW, CM7 on my Droid works great. It seems faster than CM6!

    • http://Website Dev1359

      I totally agree, I’m running Cyanogen 7 on my rooted MyTouch 4G right now and being able to run stock Gingerbread on this phone is simply amazing, it’s a HUGE step up from the craptastic Sense UI T-Mobile loaded on this phone and it feels like I have a brand new phone now. Given T-Mobile’s track record, I don’t expect regular MT4G users to receive Gingerbread until the 2nd half of this year, probably even by the time 2.4 is announced. If Motorola ships the Atrix with an unlocked bootloader I’ll probably be switching to AT&T once my contract is up…running stock Gingerbread on that thing will be absolutely godly.

  • http://Website neil

    Of course some people want to own their phones.
    I do not recommend Samsung due to a lack of official software support and Motorola fails due to their rejection of third party software support.
    They each shoot themselves in the foot.
    HTC and LG are far more reasonable!

  • http://www.romanstwelve.net Jeremy Reger

    Root access would be a huge factor when buying my next phone.. but its not a factor when I buy my BIONIC.. :) lol

  • http://wsinetspecialists.com Will Paccione

    When are they gonna get it? People are buying Motorola phones for the hardware. If they think their development is so great, they should build their own operating system again. We all saw how that went.
    No one buys one phone over the other for “Motoblur” or “Sense”.

    I’m glad they at least say their working on a solution. Time will tell.

  • http://Website Jon

    Yes, it’s an important feature to me. However I don’t see Motorola actually changing their policy on this. It’s all about motives.

    Moto had a motive to make that Facebook response: to calm the community after their PR intern had a lapse of judgment on YouTube. We all saw how many people were saying, “Ok then, HTC here I come!”

    Now onto the actual bootloader. What motive does Moto have to change their policy? Their recent phones have been wildly successful, even among the hacking community. Do we really think this two-day backlash over a comment is going to cause them to do an about face on a seemingly effective policy? I don’t.

    • http://none Jmotyka

      I agree with tebbe, a lot more people were complaining about samsung not pushing out updates fast enough and samsung hasnt turned an about face. IMO there will always be a way to gain root access.

      • http://Website Darren

        It’s a lot more work for Samsung to hire a bunch of competent software engineers to develop updates than it is for Motorola to *not* hire a bunch of software engineers to figure out devious ways of locking the bootloader.

  • http://Website Meister_Li

    I somehow highly doubt that Motorola will change anything in the future. The move from TI-OMAP to Tegra2 may make it easier for us to gain access to the whole System, since the Tegra2s don’t seem to have the same “High Security” mode the TI-OMAPs have.

    Still, I think it wasn’t a coincidence Motorola choose Texas Instruments over Qualcom back then, so I’m pretty sure they will do their best to throw lots and lots of very pointy rocks in the way of users who want to “own” a device. This smells a lot like a PR-Stunt to extinguish the flames and then stay quiet.

  • http://Website Storm14K

    I think the bigger story is that there are enough people actually concerned about rooting to make Moto actually reconsider. So 1. iFools appear to be very wrong about how much people care about the over all openess of the platform. And 2. I think all the handset makers should pay attention to this and find a balance with allowing people that want to root a semi-standard way of doing it while allowing others to be “safe”.

    • http://Website Storm14K

      Oh and if Moto unlocks the boot loader I WILL be looking into getting that Bionic.

  • http://Website thesparxinc

    if not ! … we will continue our war on facebook and all other platforms till motorola died in europe.

  • Tebbe

    While I don’t like Motorola’s use of a locked bootloader, I understand why they do it. There is a fairly sizable percent of the population that seems to think everything should be covered by a warranty. So when they screw up their phone, it gets sent back to Motorola for a warranty claim. Even if Motorola only has to turn it on to the bootloader screen to tell the warranty has been voided, they’ve still wasted a lot of time and money getting the phone shipped and filling out warranty reports.

    I guess Motorola figures they would lose more money from bogus warranty claims than they do in lost sales to geeks.

    • http://Website William

      Tebbe is right!

      Us geeks and nerds, who are reading up on all the forthcoming Android phones and probably had a live feed to CES (that is, if we weren’t there in person), are a small fraction of the larger market for smartphones. In fact, most people, even geeks and nerds, just want something “cool” that they can reliably use.

      Look how successful Apple is with the iPhone. Despite the fact that it is locked down (even more so than Motorola’s Android phones, actually), there are still a lot of geeks and nerds that have them. “Jailbroken” iPhones may get the headlines but, all in all, I dare say the overwhelmingly vast majority of the millions upon millions out there are still locked.

      One more thing that is especially relevant with the Motorola Atrix, and why I think Motorola is actually even less likely to unlock the bootloader, is that in many ways it is the most “business-ready” of Android phones. Aside from Motoblur (which I agree, is a disaster), the Atrix seems especially geared towards the business user. Consider, the laptop dock could replace many laptops for business users (ironically, it is us “power user” geeks and nerds who is less likely to actually use the Atrix laptop dock because we want/need a more power [Intel Sandy Bridge or AMD Bulldozer?] laptop instead), the fingerprint lock would alleviate many corporate security concerns, and the built-in Citrix Receiver requires Citrix XenApps (a “corporate” application most commonly used by larger businesses) in order to be useful. If the Motorola Atrix is really geared more towards the “business user” like I argue, do you really think Motorola is all that interested in unlooking the Atrix’s bootloader?

      • http://Website @neidlinger

        The difference between Apple and Android when it comes to the ability to crack open the system is Apple puts a half hearted attempt to lock theirs down. Where as Android puts everything into it.

        how so? The locked bootloaders on Motorola and the Security Protocol on HTC devices. Now HTCs are easier to crack and keep open than Motorola but they’ve put more effort into then apples team.

        Why? because apple know that if they were to lock it down completely they’d lose customers. They’d lose clients. It’s not “impossible” for companies to 100% lock us out. Look what blackberry has done. you need their software to access their phone’s internals.

    • http://Website Darren

      They’d refuse to fix it or charge a fee to do so. If the phone was decent in the first place, they might get a new sale. Either way they make money. It’s almost impossible to damage the hardware through a custom ROM or kernel. Even with extreme overclocking, the phone crashes and reboots/shuts down before any damage can be done.

  • http://Website thesparxinc

    AndrOINC is the keyword

  • http://Website Matthew

    “…while still protecting our users” <-HAHAH they mean, protect *themselves*.

  • http://Website Meister_Li

    Oh, I forgot this as well: Support from Motorola in non-US countries? Yeah well… Let’s just say the Motorola Milestone (European Droid 1) still doesn’t have Froyo and ran with a severely bugged 2.1 for six months. The worst thing about this was that the two most annoying bugs (music player started playing music at random and alarm clock was not reliable) could’ve been easily fixed if the boot loader hadn’t been locked down.

    In conclusion: Fuck you Motorola.

    • chris0101

      +1

      While Motorola may have been decent with its US customers, we global ones have been screwed over repeatedly. With poor updates AND a locked bootloader, its hard to get any custom ROMs.

      Even in the US, after Motorola stops supporting older models, you’re screwed.

  • http://jasmu.com mv

    i just recently rooted my n1 again, after i lost root access due to the 2.2.1 ota.
    i’ll never buy an unrootable device, i realized how much i missed root and cyanogenmod. none of the new phones interest me, since all of em got a retarded motoblur sense and other skins on it. i’m gonna wait for the next google dev phone, which is able to get ota’s direct from google.

    the atrix looks very tempting, might gonna buy it, if i at least could root it and use custom roms.
    my dream is an android future where every handset get updates directly via google w/o any delays. the hardware manufactures would obviously cooperate with google due to driver support…

  • http://Website Stang68

    I’m on the Droid X and rooted, running a custom ROM. How is this locked?

    • http://Website Meister_Li

      What you call “Custom Rom” is not what others mean with the term. On the locked down Motorola-Phones, the Kernel has to be signed to work. Signed by Motorola. That means that, despite having the source, you are not able to take it and compile your own kernel, for example to optimize it for your CPU (Like it was done on the Galaxy S Line), add support for other file systems, overclock the CPU/GPU or add VPN-Support.

      While the overclocking and file system support is possible with kernel modules to some degree, the optimizations are impossible to do without compiling a new kernel.

      Another, a lot bigger issue is that this means no Cyonogen Mod for the Motorola Phones and subsequently, you are dependent on Motorola to update your Phone to never Versions of Android (Android 2.2 uses a different Kernel Version than Android 2.3). So, if Motorola decides your Droid X will not get Android 2.4, you’re screwed and have no alternative way to get it.

      • http://Website Michael

        I hsve a friend who runs cm roms on his droid all rhe time. What are you talking about?

    • http://Website buckeye

      Did you use fastboot to unlock bootloader? I’m currently on an N1 with CM 6.1.1 and am considering the atrix but if I can’t get CM on it then it will likely be a no go.

    • http://Website angermeans

      I hate to tell ya, but you are still locked the bootloader has just been danced around. The kernal will remain and also the underlying Blur and this wont change unfortuantly because of the locked bootloader. Devs have made some amazing progress on the X and 2, but the fact remains you will never see custom kernals and full roms like Cyanogen (and the many many 2.3 ROMS) that will sure to grace us in the near future once an OEM manages to get it on one of their phones.

  • http://Website Splendor

    It’s too late for Moto. I bought a Droid 1 the day it launched and my next phone with be an HTC.

  • http://Website Jeffroid

    Hopefully this is a sign that Google and Motorola are working together to solve this problem.

    This may also be a sign that the next Nexus dual-core phone will be made by Motorola – Nexus M (LOL).

    • http://Website angermeans

      that would be pretty sick wouldn’t it. A Nexus with Moto hardware, Dual Core Tegra 2, better res screen, 1GB RAM, docking, and NFC like the S. Come on Moto/Google make it happen I am sick of Blur and won’t buy your amazing hardware unless I can change it (ala no more locked bootloader or Vanilla Android).

  • http://Website Derek

    I’m quickly running out of phone manufacturer options. I will NEVER buy another samsuck phone again after their complete disregard for software updates. I will NOT buy a motorola that has a locked bootloader. So that only leaves HTC and LG. And even HTC with their last T-mo phone made it so that if you load a custom rom, the next reboot wipes it away and restores the factory option.

    What dont these manufacturers get??? Android is supposed to be open!!! Might as well just get an iphone and jailbreak it. At least the iphone has a REAL OS, not just a java runtime environment masquerading as an OS.

    • http://Website @neidlinger

      @Derke

      You sir are way off kilter on your stance with HTC. They do have a security protocol that locks they ROM to T-Mobile only approved software. how ever you can unlock that with EASE. Yesterday for !@#$ and giggles i unrooted my phone, turned s=on then rerooted it turned s=off flashed ClockworkROM Manger and loaded Cyanogen(mod)… took me 45mins from front to back including downloading the PD15IMG.img/Cyanogen’s CM6.1.2RC2/GAPPS….

      you should really get out and read more.

  • http://Website labrat

    Looking forward to a unlocked XOOM.

    I wouldn’t mind seing unsubsidized phone being Carrier and Bootloader unlocked.

    To some extend, I can understand subsidized phone being lock, after all, the carrier takes a pretty big hit when selling you the phone so they “partially own it”. I understand this thinking is somewhat flawed (can the bank lock part of my house because they partially own it?)

    I think treating geeks well can have a positive halo effect on regular people. I have 4 friends with Nexus One and I don’t think any of them would have bought one if it wasn’t for me… Is it game changer for HTC, nope, is it good for them, yep.

    Anyway, FREE THE BOOTLOADER!

    • http://Website J.

      I don’t understand why people persist in believing this…

      The carrier takes absolutely no hit whatsoever when they sell you a subsidized phone. All they do is amoritize profits across 24 months of contract.

      The out the door price you pay for a subsidized phone within a month of launch? *Thats* what the carrier paid the OEM. Now in the case of free phones, yeah, they are amoritizing the cost and profit over 24 months, but they sure as hell aren’t losing ANY money on the deal.

  • http://Website Aiman

    If they shipped their new devices with unencrypted or unlocked bootloaders then I would seriously consider getting a motorola phone. I love the hardware but without CM those phones aren’t worth getting. With this speculation I am seriously considering signing on with Verizon instead of with Sprint or Tmobile

  • Drew

    Moto is probably afraid that easy rooting methods would allow people to get rid of Blur faster.

  • http://Website Faithless

    Well, the biggest problem with the *encrypted* bootloader (not locked, all bootloaders are locked out of the box) is not the possibility to install custom ROMs per se, but the fact that once Motorola decides to cease supporting our phone model there’s no (acceptable) way for us to get new software versions from Cyanogen or any other XDA-originated alternatives.

    So with encrypted bootloader basically Motorola decides when I have to buy a new phone. With open bootloader it is me who does the decision. It seems that manufacturers would like us to buy a new phone every year, but with open bootloader I can live with current hardware for two years, before I have to buy a new phone because of outdated hardware.

    At least Motorola should unlock bootloaders with their last official software update, which usually happens after 1 year. That way they don’t have to care about warranty and at the same time people can start getting updates from the community.

    Unfortunaltely not everyone has the funds to get a new phone every year.

  • http://Website yen

    I hope Congress will pass a law to require all wireless carries to operate on the same frequencies and all mobile phones are sold unlocked; like Congress did few years back to allow phone number portability.

  • http://Website Horaz

    An unlocked bootloader is a MUST for me. I have an Motorola Milestone LATAM and I (like many others) am waiting the FroYo update… when Gingerbread is out there…

    A good smartphone with unlocked bootloader and supported by Cyanogen. I expect the Atrix complies this three needs.

  • http://Website Tom Rants

    I currently have the OG Droid..rooted of course. I’m contemplating a new phone soon, but will not consider Motorola if they lock their new phones.

  • http://necropolislabs.com Terrormaster

    I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. It’s not about the custom roms for me, it’s about having a vanilla stock android device without all the carrier and manufacturer bloatware. If they can provide me with that on Verizon’s network then they can lock the bootloader all they want.

  • http://Website dbareis

    I have a Milestone with the latest 2.1 firmware, I have seen many bugs in each firmware, hard to say if we need to blame Google or Motorola for the bugs however we don’t get updates quickly and they are too few.

    Google take ZERO notice of all the bug reports on there own tracking system, rately if ever responding. They do seem to take note of some and fix in future versions of Android (but they don’t tell anyone) and seldom (if ever) provide updates to what you have.

    At the moment I’m having to boot my phone twice a day or more as every time I change between WIFI and 3G DNS (or similar fails), I have a connection, it just doesn’t work. When on WIFI DNS is “0.0.0.0″ etc. I don’t care whose bug it is but I went open source phone so that issues such as these would be quickly resolved and fixes provided. This hasn’t happened, I’m sure it would with alternative firmwares.

    • http://Website M0nk

      Try the Cyannogen port for milestone (currentrly on 2.2.1). It solved all those problems and add Froyo and additional features: http://android.doshaska.net/cm6

  • http://Website Nate

    While its great to see them responding to community input I am still very worried. The way they worded their response on Facebook was very clever, because they just said “a way for developers to use it for a development platform.” They never specified ROM developers so for all we know they are just not taking away the ability to sideload apps, since someone making an app is still a “developer”

  • http://Website ¹

    My iPhone 4 already shipped with an unlocked bootloader! :( motoflop being the copy-cat!
    Seems like iPhone is always way ahead of the competition!!!

  • http://Website bunny mc

    how can i unlock my Rokr? i hope it unlocks 3g and 4g too

  • http://Website Please Moto

    Please make the every D1 owner’s decision easy and unlock the Moto Bionic, so we can all upgrade with ease.

    You’ve got my 300 if you unlock it!

  • http://Website Mike

    This site starts huge rumors. This post feels about the same as “nexus s delayed for dual core”

    Just saying

    -Mike

  • http://Website 4G or Not To 4G

    first give the people what they want…if they open up the boot loader, then more then likely the people who want to upgrade the IOS will do so and they will not be so bothered by as many customers for the next version of Android…bout time they started thinking!

  • http://Website Josh

    An encrypted bootloader is effectively a clam by the manufacturer that they belive I do not own the device which I paid for. I will never buy a phone unless I know that I can unlock its full potential.

  • http://Website SuperFunkyFr3$h

    “Securing the software on our handsets, thereby preventing a non-Motorola ROM image from being loaded, has been our common practice for many years,” My ass they have been securing their phones for years. I have been modding Motorola phones since the RAZR V3.

  • http://Website cloud36426

    It will be one of my biggest factors on a new phone. They should give you an option and an app to download to gain full access. Upon getting the app you would have to agree to terms or maybe even email motorola and the send you a link with terms about bricking the device. once you sign the waiver thats it you should have full access to your phone and motorola not be liable for issues.

  • bjames23

    I think this is a great idea (above^^^). I started out with a Moto Droid 1, now I have the dinc, best switch I ever made. Bionic looks very enticing with its beautiful hardware but if Moto doesn’t smooth some wrinkles out (aka give a little) then no way. Still thats not going to slow their sales by much as it is true that most of the users out there don’t root nor need it. But for us Android freaks its a must and we will be heard. It wouldn’t be hard for them to have options and we should keep voicing our opinions until they do something (if ever). On the other hand, HTC is nice for the time being :)

  • http://Website DroidCLH

    The key word in this article is problem. the bootloader isn’t a policy, it’s a problem.

  • http://Website Dennis

    When I buy a phone, one of the most important factors is whether I can run custom ROM’s on it or not. Right now, Motorola is losing many (potential) customers, including me, thanks to their policy of having a locked bootloader.

    I don’t see the point of it, they are just restricting (read: obstructing) us customers. If you buy a phone, you should be able to do what you want with it and use it to its full potential!

    They say that they want to “offer a bootloader solution that will enable developers to use the devices as a development platform while still protecting the users’ interests”. The only option I see is that they deliver a phone with a locked bootloader, but give the customer an option to unlock it. That way, it’s up to the customer to decide whether they want to do it or not. Novice users will probably never find this option, thus not harming themselves. This is exactly what Google did on the Nexus One.
    (link: http://android.modaco.com/content/google-nexus-one-nexusone-modaco-com/299078/how-to-unlock-the-bootloader-on-your-nexus-one/)

    I really hope that Motorola will finally listen to their users and give us (an option to have) an unlocked bootloader, otherwise it’s a no-no to Motorola. Not even the amazing specs from the Atrix 4G can change my mind, it’s up to them to decide whether they want to satisfy their customers and increase their sales numbers or not.

  • Azeem

    I think that a very easy solutuon would be to create a standard unlocked bootloader, and when accessed, before rooting the phone, display some sort of message that clearly states that rooting will void your warranty. Customers not comfortable with the process will back away, and makes an informed decision about what they’re doing to their phone should they choose to proceed. The developers can develop, the customers that want to use custom roms can, and the customers who don’t want to possibly brick their phone and void the warranty know to steer clear.

  • http://Website John

    Perhaps Motorola will dissappoint a percentage of their fans due to a locked bootloader and FULL of useless bloatware. Promises of Android updates that never came to pass when I was a previous owner of Moto Milestone. Advertised as “Flash ready” but instead decided to release a Droid 2 with Android 2.2 and pulled the plug on the Milestone. Enough with the LIES and false PROMISES. I even doubt that Android 2.3 will be released as mentioned.

    Motorola will release phone after phone after phone. Expect an ATRIX 2 with Android 2.3 late this year and ATRIX 3 with Android 3.0 next year. Motorola UK already stated that they do not make profit by releasing updates to the consumer……..

  • http://Website A guest

    Root access is the only way to go.

  • http://Website Ben

    Funny, modding the Droid X is super simple because of Motorola’s shitty bootloader that is preinstalled. Maybe the Motorola team is just under estimating people that much. Pirates and hackers are once again one step ahead of the corporate world.

  • http://Website Final Echelon

    If root access is not a current option that can be implemented with minimal effort then that phone is on my, and my company’s, Do Not Buy list. And by minimal I mean something along the lines of Z4 Root minimal.

    I want to be able to go from outta the box to rooted and ROMed in less than 30 minutes.

    And as for Moto’s warranty, I would love for someone to explain just how a custom ROM has any bearing on the hardware’s warranty. If I buy a Dell laptop with Windows installed, wipe it and load any flavor of Linux, does it void my warranty with Dell? No. Why? Because Dell knows not to play like that because even if they wont a few battles, they would ultimately lose the war and their business (one of many reasons I prefer Dell).

    Could I flash a custom BIOS and overclock it to the point it cooks it? Sure. But Dell’s Gold level customer support will take care of it because they know negative opinions will spread like wildfire and the cost of my motherboard pales sadly in comparison to the cost of one person telling everyone he knows “dont buy Dell, they screwed me over”.

    You seem to be waking up Moto, albeit very slowly. I hope you realize there is a balance between openness and security. Personally I like the idea of an unlockable boot loader; this way people who want to, can, and people who dont want to or dont know how, cant and dont have to worry about it.

    FE