Could we be approaching the end of rooting Android devices?

July 29, 2013
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Google has been improving the Android experience for years. Recently a discussion took place that suggested that rooting Android may come to an end.

android root
Most of us who have rooted our Android devices can remember our first root. For me, it was the MyTouch 3G Slide. It was an easy, one-click method that, at the time, seemed overwhelming and awesome. Nowadays, it would be a 5 minute exercise with just a few clicks. Like everyone else, the first thing I installed was CyanogenMod 6. It was good times. Back then everyone was rooting for various reasons. People wanted to install custom ROMs, they wanted to install tweaks and mods to improve performance or cellular service, they wanted to try the bleeding edge features that developers invented, or they just wanted root access to use some root-only applications like Root Explorer or Titanium Backup.

So how about now? Steve Kondik, the mastermind behind CyanogenMod, posed a very simple and interesting question. What do people actually use root for these days? With devices being more powerful than they’ve ever been before, most people aren’t scoping the latest ROMs on XDA for performance enhancements like they used to. The cutting edge Android features have already been welded into Android for the most part. Long gone are the days where you had to install a custom ROM just to have toggles in your notification panel. This has evolved into the quick settings screen that all Android devices have now.

So what were the answers? We’ll give you a short list of some of the most popular answers people gave for rooting their phone.

  • Backing up and restoring applications using Helium or Titanium Backup. (Note, Helium actually doesn’t need root to work)
  • Removing carrier bloatware.
  • Installing CyanogenMod (of course).
  • Adblock.
  • Sixaxis Controller. This allows people to connect things like PS3 controllers to their Android devices.
  • Greenify, Juice Defender, Tasker, and other apps that manage performance, battery life, etc.
  • Moving applications to the system partition instead of the data partition and other file exploring.
  • Various network activities.

You’ll notice people didn’t say things like installing custom ROMs, improving performance, improving cell signal, etc. That’s because OEMs have actually eliminated these problems by giving us better hardware. Notice too how no one is clamoring to try the latest, bleeding edge features. That’s because Google and OEMs have already implemented all the best ones into the unrooted Android experience. Simply put, most of the important things we used rooting to obtain now come stock with most Android phones.

Now, to put things in perspective, if Steve Kondik had posed this question 2 years ago, the list would be much, much longer. Android has come a long way in the last few years. The conclusion is that with each new iteration of Android and each new generation of hardware, there are fewer and fewer reasons for rooting. It’s all come down to a handful of apps that we all enjoy using. There are some much more technical reasons as well. One example Steve gave was managing a DNS resolver.

Okay, so rooting isn’t as useful as it once was. What now?

Steve had an answer for that as well. He says, “Going forward, I’m interested in building framework extensions and APIs into CM to continue to abolish the root requirement.”

Going forward, I'm interested in building framework extensions and APIs into CM to continue to abolish the root requirement.
Steve Kondik

 Those who are into software development, modification, etc already know exactly what that means. What this would do is essentially make all these root apps continue to work as normal, but without rooting your device. So you could still run these root-only apps and perform these root-only tasks without compromising your security and without rooting your device. Essentially making the root-only apps part of the regular Android experience.

This is actually a reasonable and good idea. So good, in fact, that a few Android programmers straight from Google have been paying attention. This is how it starts, folks. This is how things like notification toggles in CM evolve into today’s Android Quick Settings. It starts with a good idea by a talented developer and gets picked up by the all mighty Google.

I have no intention of removing root from CM. What I want to see is the common use cases supported by the platform so that we can write more powerful apps.
Steve Kondik

Of course, people are still going to want to install custom ROMs like CyanogenMod and we’re sure things like that will still be possible. To make things quite clear, no one is suggesting that root simply go away. This is more of developers looking to improve the Android experience even more and, thus, removing yet another large reason why people root.

So the question is, why do you go about rooting your phone these days? If something like this were implemented where root-only apps could become part of the general Android experience, would you even need a reason to root anymore? Our own Derek Ross admits his root requirements are diminishing and, admittedly, I did too. So we’ve got big name developers talking about integrating new APIs and modifications to abolish root and Google is listening. Could this be the beginning of the end? If you’d like to discuss things, feel more than free to leave a comment.

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