July 31, 2014

Reasons for Root: Report

Not quite three weeks ago, I made a request in this column for “reasons for root” — business arguments why a device manufacturer should be willing, perhaps even interested, to allow replacement firmware and/or root access on their devices. That post received a number of comments, as did a tweet and a thread on the [android-discuss] Google Group.

I then culled those ideas, along with my own, into a report. I passed a draft by a few people, got more feedback, and incorporated those changes as well. You can view the full seven-page report here.

I divided up the arguments into two groups: reasons that benefit Android as a whole against competing platforms, and reasons that benefit one Android device manufacturer in competition with other such manufacturers. Helping Android overall is a “rising tides lifts all boats” approach to helping any given manufacturer. However, given that firms like HTC and Motorola are competing on Android devices as much as collaborating on the OS itself, we needed some arguments there as well.

Three reasons came to light for how replaceable firmware helps Android as a whole:

  • It should increase the number of developers skilled in Android firmware, and those developers are key for everything from implementing features to customizing Android for specific enterprises or other bulk customers
  • It should reduce concerns about upgrade paths that put Android at a disadvantage compared to iPhone
  • It helps Android stay ahead of, or at least on par with, platforms competing on openness, such as Symbian and Meego

For helping a specific Android device manufacturer, the report outlines:

  • Just because a device manufacturer came up with one use for a product does not mean there are no other uses that might drive sales, as is seen in “hackable” products like the Linksys WRT64GL router
  • Many technology leaders like Android for its openness and will tend to like open devices more than closed ones — getting them to back your device can help with promotion
  • Getting more firmware developers working on Android — per the first bullet point in this post — gives you a bigger pool of potential hires or contractors, and having some with specific knowledge of your own devices makes them that much more useful
  • If Android and other open platforms represent another step on a trend line from completely closed to the current semi-open state, one way to exploit that trend is to get in front of it

Obviously, this report does not include every possible argument, specifically trying to stay away from emotional or ethical points and sticking to business and financial ones. I am sure there are more ideas and arguments to be made, so I expect this report to be a “living document”, republished periodically, gaining strength each time.

Feel free to read and distribute the report, and send me your additional ideas, as comments here, or via posts on the [cw-android] Google Group.