Making good on a promise from earlier this year, HTC is offering a software tool to unlock its Android devices that launched after Sept. 2011. The bootloader software on future HTC Android phones will also be supported by the online unlock tool. HTC originally locked down its phones, much as other handset makers do, but it decided to change its stance in May, due to overwhelming customer feedback.
Although there is a list of phones that can be used with the tool, some XDA-Developer forum members have tested it on phones that are not on the officially supported handset list, specifically on phones for AT&T’s and Verizon’s networks. Although not every HTC phone for these operators has been tested, forum members indicate that the unlock tool works for the Rezound, Vivid, Rhyme and Thunderbolt.
Note that the tool doesn’t unlock the phone from one carrier’s network for use on another. Instead, it opens up access to the bootloader, which is the software used to restrict changes to the operating system, radio software and other functions. An unlocked bootloader is what you need to install custom Android builds, which can add new features or change the look and feel of your phone’s user interface.
Will most HTC handset owners notice this new tool or take advantage of it? Probably not, because they want their phone to be supported by the carrier and handset maker. HTC clearly notes all the risks involved when using the unlocking tool and suggests that a handset with an unlocked bootloader may be considered out of warranty. For smartphone enthusiasts who like to tinker with their phones, this is a victory, however, and even for consumers as a whole it’s a positive sign.
Smartphone owners continue to battle for control of their handsets with network operators and hardware makers. Over time, I anticipate this battle to heat up as the mainstream consumers of today become the tech-savvy device owners of tomorrow. When a highly personal device is purchased but is limited by the amount of true personalization options available, what will the consumer reaction be? It’s not difficult to predict: The locked bootloader on HTC phones is one example, and a more recent one is the outcry over the lack of Android 4.0 support on some recent Samsung phones, simply because Samsung’s own software doesn’t fit on the devices.