Motorola Droid 3 Has a Locked Bootloader – For Now

July 9, 2011
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    Motorola’s Droid 3 is so close to being formally outed on July 14, I can almost taste it. The market has been clamoring for a decent QWERTY Android phone, with some power under the hood. While not 4G, the Droid 3 makes up for it in other areas, but also falls short in others. Unfortunately, today, we can add to that potential list of cons, as the device will be shipping with a locked bootloader.

    Still, our repeated attempts to communicate with Motorola to truly ascertain their policy have been met with copy and pasted policies straight off the desk of their PR team. Unfortunately, it looks like Motorola has done what they do best – make great phones with good hardware and build quality, and lock them down to appeal to the demands of carriers. This is not the first time that Motorola has done this, as the majority of new Motorola owners have discovered. Premium devices like the Motorola Atrix, the Motorola Photon, the Motorola Droid X2, and others have all come with locked bootloaders, as of late, despite promises of the opposite from the big M.

    Still, it’s not all bad, dear Android fan. Motorola has said, “as we’ve communicated, we plan to enable the unlockable/relockable bootloader in future software releases, starting in late 2011, where channel and operator partners will allow it.” Of course, the key is to read between the lines. Motorola has basically flat out said that they would like to sell their phones unlocked, but have been unable to do so, due to the demands of “channel and operator partners”. They have also stipulated that if you decide to unlock the bootloader, then you are on your own, as far as warranty is concerned. As a Motorola spokesperson made clear in a recent blogpost, “If you brick your phone messing with it, we don’t want to have to fix it under warranty.

    You know though, to be fair, it’s not easy being a massive technology company these days. Shortened release cycles, slim profit margins, and intensified competition have made it difficult, and especially as of late. Motorola, like many other technological behemoths have had to negotiate the gauntlet of tech-savvy consumers making demands, and the powerful chequebooks of their biggest customers – the carriers.

    Perhaps the best strategy is to make phones that are so incredibly appealing, that they can stand on their own, like Samsung’s 2010 flagship – the Samsung Galaxy S, which arrived on numerous carriers, and all with an unlocked bootloader. The smart companies these days are cultivating relationships with the modding community, and are working closer with different groups of people to make their devices better and better. Unfortunately, acta non verba, or actions speak louder than words. Motorola has continued in its previous lock-happy ways, by adding things like eFuse, an anti-tampering countermeasure system that delivers the user the wonderful treat of bricking their phone should they try to liberate it from the clutches of stock software, to phones like the Droid X. That must have earned them a lot of fans.

    We love to praise companies for the great hardware they produce, for their contributions to technological advancement, and for making the hardware we all know and love. But as a site that covers the mobile technology space, and one that has journalistic integrity, we have to say we and others have simply had it. Some have taken it further, and one in particular has created a site that has received over 10,000 signatures decrying Motorola’s practices.

    How many of these great phones will be hampered by a locked down bootloader?

    This is one of the more poignant comments, amongst thousands, that sums it up nicely:

    My money means that this is MY phone. Supposedly, the locked bootloader is intended to protect the enduser from breaking the phone; however, the general public that they are claiming to protect will likely be unaffected by Motorola’s decision. Give the people that want to take time to modify their phones that opportunity. If I wanted to be stuck in a walled garden, then I wouldn’t have bought a supposedly “open” OS with Android.

    - Steven Banaban

    Any thoughts? Why do you think Motorola unlocked the bootloader of the Motorola XOOM, but not for their other most recent devices? Is there any hope for the future, or will Motorola stick to its word? And even if it does – what if the carriers don’t budge?

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