Locked, Encryption, and a self-destruct button — all over a cellphone? It’s not very often that I’m asked to write something and don’t really want to write it. But there’s this 800-pound gorilla in the room. Of course, I’m talking about the insane idea that a phone manufacturer would design a phone that self-destructs when you try to hack or mod it. If we’re to believe what we read here at My Droid World (and there’s no reason not to), the Droid X is exactly that. Join me after the jump, and we can talk a bit about exactly what might be going on and how it may affect this devices future.
Update: No sooner than we posted this did Droid modder Steven Bird brings up some good points. One is that no Droid X’s have exploded just yet, and that an OMAP3 eFUSE isn’t really a new phenomenon. It’s likely there will be some major hurdles to overcome before we see custom ROMs on the Droid X, and it’s just as likely that some very smart and talented people will be working on it. We still wish Android hardware would remain open, however, and that won’t change. Thanks to everyone who sent this in. – Phil
Supposedly the Droid X includes a new piece of hardware called an eFUSE. Geeky types can read that link from EETimes. It’s not really a fuse, but it’s used to open or change a circuit and bring things to a grinding halt, just like what happens when a fuse blows. They’re not bad things on their own. They can have useful functions, like shutting down a microprocessor if the temperature gets too high, or stopping a motor controller when resistance gets past a certain point (like if a wrench or person were stuck in the drivetrain). They’re handy, and used in many things.
That’s not what Motorola is doing with them. Supposedly (you’ll see that word a lot in this article. Bare with me.) Motorola has designed a circuit that uses an eFUSE, or group of eFUSES, that can block the circuits of the X, causing it to not power on, if unsupported software is loaded on the phone. In this case, unsupported means any software not specifically designed by Motorola. (Commenters, go easy on me, I’m simplifying this on purpose. I want everyone on the same page — we can discuss logic, nand gates, and JTAG programming in another place. ) Even worse, this is permanent to us. The phone will have to go back to Motorola for reconditioning to ever work again. That’s crazy.
In a nutshell, if you try to enable the loading custom ROMS or flashing a new kernel, the X goes “click” and it’s done. Forever. And there’s no way you going to get warranty service on it, cause it happened when you were hacking at it. That’s what we think we know. Until the first brave soul actually bricks his or her X, or Motorola comes out and verifies the information (And you should Moto, and you know it.). Until then, we wait. And guess.
Now, what follows is purely my opinion, so you know who to yell at. Android is open. That’s why we have the ability to do things like install a new keyboard, or replace the SMS application with Handcent. And why people like Cyanogen and his team of merry douchesters can hack the living daylights out of things and create a better OS than Google or Motorola or HTC can. Or why you can overclock last year’s best phone, and make it run as well as this year’s best phone.
Will most people want to hack new or different software on their X? Probably not. Will anyone really need to use a custom ROM on the X? Again, probably not. But could a great phone be made even better if those that do want to were allowed? Maybe, but it’s looking like we’ll never know. I wont name names, but those of you who still rock the OG Droid know who I mean, and you’re the people I’m complaining with anyway. More than a few well known hackers/developers/freakin Android geniuses have already written off the X, and won’t be worried about working with it.
Shame on you, Motorola. You know how you’ll still sell a metric buttload of Droid X’s, but you also know you could provide a way for those that feel the need to tinker to do so without frying their brand new $569.99 phone — and you could digitally mark these phones to void the warranty. Android users helped pull you out of the ashes — don’t write a good portion of them off.