HTC unlocks its phones, but probably not just to irk Google

Taking a page from Samsung, HTC follows Motorola's acquisition announcement with an effort to open Android

HTC, which just announced it would stick with Google and keep running Android on its best phones even though Google just bought one of HTC's main competitors, continues the trend started by Samsung this week of needling Google by doing things that make it easier for people to mess with Android.

Samsung hired the founder and chief developer of the most popular developer of Android-modification firmware to work on its smartphone OS development team with the goal, he said in a Facebook update, of "making Android more awesome."

Google has been trying to lock Android down more, lately, in addition to buying Motorola for reasons that are cloudy but might include the need to stave off potential patent-trolling from Motorola if Google didn't come through with some love.

The acquisition is expected to produce a huge shift in the smartphone market, though no one is quite sure what that effect will be.

Nokia put out an announcement yesterday predicting the Google/Motorola connection would drive customers to Windows Phone 7. That seems like a chancy prediction, however, considering the Windows Phone 7 experience is currently driving customers to other operating systems.

While Samsung's gesture was a grand one, HTC is sticking with smaller ones that follow through on promises it made earlier in the year to deliver bootloader unlock tools for many of its most popular Android phones.

The software allows owners to get access to the operating system and system software protected as firmware on the phones and allow them to modify both to their hearts' content.

Most carriers lock down the operating system to keep customers from messing around with the OS, partly to reduce support costs and keep the phones' links to the cell network from being corrupted, but also to keep customers from adding software or services from third-party developers that the carriers would prefer to supply themselves -- at a premium price.

Unlocked phones and user-installed software pose much higher risk of infection by malware or corruption of system software. Most bootloader unlock apps include either a method or reminder to users to back up system images of the phones to restore them more easily if necessary.

HTC views unlocked OSes as a way to encourage both ISVs and owners to get more involved developing apps and mods for the phones, according to an interview in the WSJ with HTC CEO Peter Chou.

HTC did investigate whether it should build its own operating system to compete with Android, as Samsung has done.

It decided to stick with Android for the size and activity level of developers and owners already in the market.

"I think there's a lot we can's not the operating system, it's the we think we can find a way to differentiate to add value, but at the same time leverage our partners, Google and Microsoft, since we have such a great relationship with them," Chou told Dow Jones Newsires during an interview.

The first U.S. device that can use the bootloader is the EVO 3D. It only works on software version 2.08.651.2 and above, so some users may have to go through the carriers' process of firmware update before using it. EU version s of the HTC Sensation got the update earlier.

The bootloader and HTC's detailed instructions for using it are posted at the HTC developer's site HTCDEV.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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