Lost in the sea of MWC news this week was the formal stance that Verizon Wireless took in regards to the possibility of allowing its handsets to ship with unlocked booloaders. As Verizon shipped the first generation Motorola Droid with an open bootloader, it was thought that the carrier did so initially in order to spur sales to developers, as at the time Android was just beginning to take hold in the mind of developers as a viable development platform for applications that wouldn’t have been normally approved by Apple or other platforms.
While many expected that Verizon would continue the practice of shipping phones with open bootloaders, Motorola developed its subsequent phones for the carrier with locked bootloaders partly due to pressure exerted on them while other manufacturers warmed up to the idea and shipped devices on Verizon with locked bootloaders, but are offering tools to unlock them at the expense of the officially backed warranty such as HTC and Sony Ericsson.
While the position applies to all Android phones developed and sold on the carrier, this is the first time that a US carrier has formalized its position on the normally enthusiast issue of locked versus unlocked bootloaders. By coming out against them, Verizon has also opened itself up to even further scrutiny from regulators, as the whole reason for detailing its stance on an official level to begin with stemmed from a customer’s FCC request for answers as to why Verizon continually skirted the issue of shipping phones with locked bootloaders, as in their unlocked form, they would allow experienced modders to modify the software as desired and is usually done to remove carrier loaded software and customization work.
Below is Verizon’s official statement to the FCC on the matter, which references the security and reliability issues cited by the carrier:
“An open bootloader could prevent Verizon Wireless from providing the same level of customer experience and support because it would allow users to change the phone or otherwise modify the software and, potentially, negatively impact how the phone connects with the network. The addition of unapproved software could also negatively impact the wireless experience for other customers.”
Now, Verizon made no mention of device security in its response, but the initial reason for the complaint had everything to do with the mandates assigned to the carrier for the network to remain open when it won the highly debated 700MHz C Block of spectrum it currently uses for its 4G LTE network. The issue now lies in the perception of the LTE network as an open network as defined by the FCC’s mandates to Verizon.
So it seems that out of a misunderstanding of context regarding the meaning of the word unlocked in this specific case, Verizon decided to interpret the term as it related to its Android smartphones, when in fact the customer that filed the complaint may have in fact been looking for the reason that the carrier wasn’t following its mandates regarding open access on its LTE network for both users and hardware. With this latest PR move, Verizon continues to add to its PR missteps, but this situation is more likely to affect enthusiasts rather than general consumers at the cost of gooodwill.
Verizon would do well to also remember that the current Android modder scene was built off of phones such as the G1 and first generation Droid, but the carrier seems content to ignore that minority of customers in favor of the non-enthusiast majority. However, the enthusiast minority is also ultimately responsible for making Android such a successful platform for both manufacturers and carriers. Without them, Android simply wouldn’t be the carrier and manufacturer darling it is today, and by locking out bootloaders for enthusiasts, it looks to freeze out its most crucial base for Android.