on Motorolas Droid X

Current crop of smartphones are really just tiny computers that happen to have GSM modem attached to it and are fit into really small chasis. You could go out and buy Beagleboard that contains the same SoC that powers many of the smartphones (OMAP 3*) and attach a screen and a GSM module to it. It would of course look horribly clunky but it would be usable as a basic phone and with little bit more engineering effort you can get something that looks like a normal phone so there really isn’t any magic to it.

Now keeping that in mind it’s really alarming to see how some manufacturers are trying to lock down their phones so you wouldn’t be able to install your own stuff on them. Latest and the most invasive example of this is the Droid X from Motorola that contains technology called eFuse that will semi-brick [1] the phone if you try to install OS on it that is not signed by them.

Here’s a quote from the Motorola representative:

Motorola’s primary focus is the security of our end users and protection of their data, while also meeting carrier, partner and legal requirements. The Droid X and a majority of Android consumer devices on the market today have a secured bootloader. In reference specifically to eFuse, the technology is not loaded with the purpose of preventing a consumer device from functioning, but rather ensuring for the user that the device only runs on updated and tested versions of software. If a device attempts to boot with unapproved software, it will go into recovery mode, and can re-boot once approved software is re-installed. Checking for a valid software configuration is a common practice within the industry to protect the user against potential malicious software threats. Motorola has been a long time advocate of open platforms and provides a number of resources to developers to foster the ecosystem including tools and access to devices via MOTODEV at http://developer.motorola.com.

While this rhetoric might seem reasonable at first glance it really doesn’t make any sense once you think of the Droid X as a computer that it really is and Android as a specific version of a specific OS. Would you ever buy a computer from a hardware vendor if their offering came with their specific version of “Windows 7” (branded and modified a bit) that can’t be upgraded by the user?

The mobile network isn’t really any more special than wifi network or the internet in general. I have never seen any reasonable argument why device containing GSM modem should be treated any differently than a device containing Wifi device. Both have radios in them and both are really distinct modules that run their own firmware/operating system so messing with the radio is limited there, not from the OS of the main device.

Only real reason seems to be that all the relevant industries want to have as much control as possible and in general this interest is always in direct conflict with long term interests of the users. The real main reason from the perspective of the Motorola is probably just planned obsolescence. They are likely to provide software updates for this device at most for a year and after that you just have to buy newer device if you want newer software even though your hardware might be perfectly capable to run it.

Anyway, currently the most open smartphone that is actually usable as a phone seems to be Nokia N900.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.