Fresh from HTC’s Facebook wall comes commentary detailing exactly how the bootloader unlocking process will work for users who already own an HTC handset. The good news is that it will be easy-peasy, even for those of us non-hackers who normally just run our handsets stock. The bad news is that doing so “…may void all or parts of your warranty”, according to the recent update to the company’s Facebook status. Another key takeaway is that all new phones will continue to ship with the bootloaders locked, so no out-of-the-box unlocked experience as some may have hoped.
Now, if you are wondering just what all of this hub-bub about the bootloader unlocker is, here is the quick scoop. First off, rooting your phone and unlocking your bootloader are two related terms, but they have discrete meanings. Rooting your phone allows you to install apps that may require root access, such as some backup applications and apps that allow you to overclock your CPU, for instance. Most of these apps are available somewhere off-market, outside of the Android Market. Unlocking the bootloader can be thought of as the next level of access, and is the key to gaining the capability to install custom ROMs on your phone. Installing a custom ROM might be used to get rid of HTC Sense, for instance, and to relieve yourself of pre-loaded carrier software that you have no interest in.
Software updates for three of the manufacturer’s flagship devices are due to arrive this month. The Sensation (global), Sensation 4G (T-Mobile), and the Evo 3D are due to receive the update, and by “update”, I believe HTC means an OTA update that allows use of a web-based tool to unlock the bootloader. Sounds like unlocking will work a little like side-loading, requiring you to connect your handset to a PC via a USB cable. The method, which is described in more detail in the Facebook quote below, sounds easy enough for a non-techie to get through it. Of course, the ensuing installation of a custom ROM that should naturally follow might be a little more harrowing for the average consumer to try. HTC’s point here is clear: use at your own risk, and do not expect the carrier to bail you out if you are modding your phone after applying the bootloader unlocker.
There are some interesting indications from this whole effort that HTC is making to provide unlocked bootloaders. One of the more prominent ones is that it seems like HTC is “getting it”. And by “getting it”, I mean avoiding the Sony approach to a company’s loyal customer base. The truth is, unlocked bootloaders do not matter directly. The incredibly small percentage of HTC handset owners who will benefit from this access is so small as to be infinitesimal. Any direct increase in sales experienced that can be directly attributed to this move will be so small that it is a waste of time for any analysts to actually do this assessment.
However, there is an impact to sales that I would call the subject matter expert (SME) effect. If a bunch of us go out and buy HTC handsets because they are unlocked, or refuse to buy a certain manufacturer’s handsets because they are not unlocked, it will make little difference. But if a bunch of us who have many friends start swearing by HTC handsets when our non-tech friends come to us for purchasing advice, that might start having an impact. Those friends need not know, nor would they care, that the open access to the handset is a part of what drives our recommendation.
The tech market can certainly be manipulated by companies who garner sufficient mindshare. And that intangible can certainly be realized as real dollars. One only need look at Apple for an example of such an effect. I think HTC understands that we gadget-heads may not be able to make them fail, but we can certainly help make them more popular. I am sure that HTC sees the benefit in incentivizing a small part of a customer-base to recommend something other than an iPhone to two or three of their friends. The absence of unlocked bootloaders may not keep people from buying phones, but they may keep some number of us from recommending them to less informed buyers, who might then default to buying a device they see as a safe bet. A copy of the Facebook post is provided below:
Since our last update, many of you have asked how the bootloader unlocking process will actually work, and in particular why HTC’s most recently released devices still have a locked bootloader. Rest assured we’re making progress toward our goal to roll out the first software updates in August to support unlocking for the global HTC Sensation, followed soon by the HTC Sensation 4G on T-Mobile and the HTC EVO 3D on Sprint. Because unlocking the bootloader provides extensive control over the device and modifications may cause operation, security and experience issues, new devices will continue to ship locked but will support user-initiated unlocking using a new Web-based tool.
So how will this work? The Web tool, which will launch this month, requires that you register an account with a valid e-mail address and accept legal disclaimers that unlocking may void all or parts of your warranty. Then plug in your phone to a computer with the Android SDK loaded to retrieve a device identifier token, which you can then enter into the Web tool to receive a unique unlock key via e-mail. Finally, apply the key to your device and unlocking will be initiated on your phone.
We’re excited to bring bootloader unlocking to developers and enthusiasts, and we feel this new Web tool will meet your needs and continue to provide customers with the best experience. Thanks to the community for supporting these efforts!