HTC long fought to keep its bootloader tightly locked, forcing jailbreaking, now it at last opens up

If you own an a phone with Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android operating system, beware there are likely two significant locks on it.

The first is the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) (or Universal Integrated Circuit Card) lock.  This lock prevents the user from swapping in a different SIM (or UICC) card to jump ship to another carrier.  UICC locks are sometimes somewhat misleadingly referred to as "SIM locks", though the most appropriate title for locks on the UICC/SIM are "carrier locks".

A second level of digital-rights management (DRM)/locking is the bootloader lock, which prevents users from loading custom ROMs.  Taiwan HTC Corp. (TPE:2498) -- a giant of the Android world who is currently perched atop U.S. smartphone sales charts -- has taken a big step forward in begrudgingly opening up an easy bootloader unlock.

It writes:

HTC is committed to listening to users and delivering customer satisfaction. We have heard your voice and starting now, we will allow our bootloader to be unlocked for 2011 models going forward. We plan on releasing the updates that will allow you to unlock your bootloader in the coming months, please keep an eye on this website for more details on which devices will be adding this feature. We are extremely pleased to see the energy and enthusiasm from our fans and loyal customers, and we are excited to see what you are capable of. HTC eagerly anticipates your innovations.

Again the key phrase here is "for 2011 models", meaning older HTC best-sellers like the EVO 4G likely do not apply.  HTC's unlocking tool reportedly works on the HTC Amaze, EVO View 4G, Design, Flyer, myTouch 4G Slide, and the Sensation (officially), plus the Rezound, Vivid, Rhyme, and Thunderbolt (unofficially).

HTC Rezound
The HTC Rezound is among the unlockable models. [Image Source: Sara Tew/CNET]

And the appropriate term for HTC's release is indeed "begrudgingly".  It writes:

It is our responsibility to caution you that not all claims resulting or caused by or from the unlocking of the bootloader may be covered under warranty. Please note that unlocking your bootloader does not mean that you will be able to unlock the SIM lock. Unlocking your SIM lock is at the discretion of your operator/carrier and is not part of the bootloader unlocking scope.

Our devices have been designed with our hardware and software specifications in mind and unlocking the bootloader will change the software and may cause unexpected side effects. It is impossible for HTC to ensure the proper functioning of your device after this. In the worst case scenario, it is possible that your device may be physically damaged due to overheating or the behavior of your device might be altered including, but not limited to, hearing aid compatibility (HAC) and specific absorption rate (SAR) values.

Some content on your device may also be invalidated and cannot be accessed any more because of invalid DRM security keys. This includes content that you may have purchased through a 3rd party vendor and through HTC. Furthermore, although you will still be able to receive updates to your device via FOTA (“firmware over the air”), we do not guarantee that updating your device via FOTA will not render your device unusable. Please understand that you will not be able to return your device to the original state and going forward your device may not be held covered under the warranty for all claims resulting from the unlocking of the bootloader. HTC bears no responsibility if your device is no longer usable afterwards.

We strongly suggest that you do not unlock the bootloader unless you are confident that you understand the risks involved. This is a technical procedure and the side effects could possibly necessitate repairs to your device not covered under warranty. If you are still interested in unlocking the bootloader, and you understand the consequences both to your device and to your warranty, then you may refer to the following pages where we have provided the unlocking instructions.
Of the Android handset makers HTC was one of the strictest in terms of locking down its bootloader and tying DRM tightly to its system.  While HTC's warning makes it clear that the company still isn't thrilled with unlocking (or at least wants to cover itself legally against the very real risks involved), it has perhaps softened its stance due to the CarrierIQ scandal.  That mess appeared to be almost solely instigated by poorly written HTC code that created a security flaw in the Android operating system.

Handset maker or OS maker endorsed unlocking tools are not uncommon these days.  After an early backlash on a proposed crackdown on unlocking, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) now endorses a third party unlocking tool for its Windows Phone handsets.

Bootloader unlocking is synonmous with "jailbreaking", albeit jailbreaking applies to platforms where custom kernel use is disallowed.  Thus devices like Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) iPhone are "jailbroken", while devices with authorized unlocks like the above HTC models are merely "bootloader unlocked".  The ultimate goal of either approach is to load a custom kernel/ROM, typically one that gives the user root access, allowing them to tweak their phone as they see fit.

Source: HTC Dev.

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