Motorola Droid X Disappointments

On July 15th the latest Android super-phone was released by Motorola and Verizon Wireless. All hail the Droid X. The release was not without controversy though. The Droid X, while greatly raising the bar for Android phones in general, does so at the expense of the very power users and community that made the original Droid the gotta-have phone it became. Alienating this group may have far reaching consequences for Motorola.Details about the Droid X seemed to surface almost daily as the release date neared.
Verizon Wireless demonstrated they are every bit the master of hype as another
popular smart phone company. As hype built, an undercurrent of negative news began
to flow as details of how Motorola crippled the phone became known: HDMI output was
supposedly restricted to user generated content only; an encrypted boot loader was
used, just like the Motorola Milestone, still not broken after 7 months; and, eFuse, a
“feature” that was initially reported to brick* the phone if the bootloader were changed,
was enabled. Overall not very encouraging for power users looking to get their hands
on what, on paper, promised to be one of the best Android phones released so far.

Discontent over Motorola’s hobbling of the new Droid X continued to build until Lori
Fraleigh responded on the MOTODEV Blog:

Securing the software on our handsets, thereby preventing a non-Motorola ROM
image from being loaded, has been our common practice for many years. This
practice is driven by a number of dierent business factors. When we do deviate
from our normal practice, such as we did with the DROID, there is a specific
business reason for doing so. We understand this can result in some confusion,
and apologize for any frustration. Source

As you might imagine, this response did little to quell the negative comments flowing
around the net. Things heated up even further when the eFuse “feature” was noticed.
Again Motorola had to respond, this time with a formal statement:

Motorola’s primary focus is the security of our end users and protection of their
data, while also meeting carrier, partner and legal requirements. The DROID X
and a majority of Android consumer devices on the market today have a secured

In reference speci?cally to eFuse, the technology is not loaded with the purpose
of preventing a consumer device from functioning, but rather ensuring for the
user that the device only runs on updated and tested versions of software. If a
device attempts to boot with unapproved software, it will go into recovery mode,
and can re-boot once approved software is re-installed. Checking for a valid
software con?guration is a common practice within the industry to protect the
user against potential malicious software threats. Source

Motorola claims that a majority of other devices use a secured bootloader. This is
technically true, but it is Motorola that has taken the additional step of disabling the phone if different software (i.e. bootloader, and quite probably ROM images) is
detected. In short, Motorola enabled a self-destruct “feature” to prevent the end user
from being able to update, upgrade, enhance, or otherwise tweak their phone as they
desire. All supposedly in the name of “protecting” the consumer from potential
malicious software threats.

This excuse clearly falls short when one realizes that it is extremely unlikely that a
malicious image could be flashed to a phone without alerting the user. Claiming eFuse
is there to protect the consumer in this manner is disingenuous at best, or a bald-
faced lie at worst. Disabling legally purchased phones because the user attempts to
update or otherwise modify the phone is just like General Motors shutting down the
ignition system of a car because the owner changed their own oil. That kind of built-in
sabotage is not tolerated with cars, or any other physical goods, and neither should it
be tolerated from Motorola.

Motorola has had a huge impact on wireless communications through the years.
Motorola made some of the most iconic wireless phones ever made: DynaTAC/8000
series, MicroTAC (first flip phone), StarTAC (very small flip), and more recently the
RAZR. With the exception of the RAZR, those phones were from the hey-day of
Motorola’s wireless presence. Over time competition intensified and companies like
Nokia, LG, and Samsung significantly eroded Motorola’s market share. Unfortunately
Motorola also rode the coattails of the popularity of the RAZR phones for so long they
practically became a joke.

While the Motorola handset group had some interesting prototypes and designs, they
didn’t seem to be able to duplicate the popularity of their past phones. What they did
have was their experience with Linux. Motorola was one of the earliest phone
manufacturers to embrace Linux in a big way. The barriers they erected in their Linux
endeavors did not meet with the broad acceptance they probably had hoped for, and in
the end, at the end of October 2008, Motorola abandoned their flavor of Linux.

That is the Motorola that turned to Android, in an effort to reinvent itself yet again, and
that in turn led to the first Droid phone. The original Droid was a return to what made
Motorola great in the past. Comments about how the phone’s “feel”, the build quality,
and even the phone’s toughness all paid tribute to Motorola’s past engineering
mastery. And thanks to Motorola’s decision to build what in effect was an open device,
without including extra layers that would hinder power users, the Droid quickly earned
its placed in the company of other significant Android handsets such as the G1 and
Nexus One.

Motorola either fails to recognize or is denying the importance of power users and
their influence in the general public. These power users played a significant role in
promoting the Droid to its position of prominence in the Android handset hierarchy.
Instead, Motorola has slapped the face of the community that rallied around them and
helped bring Motorola back from the brink and into the minds of the people as a
serious player.

It needs to be pointed out that Motorola, through Lori Fraleigh’s blog, seems to be
fully aware of their actions. Motorola admits that the openness of the Droid handset phone was atypical, and that it was done for a “business reason.” The appeal of the Droid was
a tool, a means to lure those that could potentially shape the opinions of a larger
group of people. Now that this has been done, Motorola seems to be reverting to their
old ways. So much for reinventing themselves.

For a company that admits it has “doubled down on our bets with Google,” they seem
to be missing entirely the significant risk they face should they alienate the thriving
community around the platform that they are betting the company on. The iPhone has
the Apple faithful, more or less, to sustain it. Motorola, on the other hand, is one of
many handset manufacturers courting the Android community (new and existing
members alike). Failing to take that into consideration has the potential to seriously
damage Motorola’s long term eort to win and keep the very customers that helped
Motorola rebound once again. There’s no lock-in with Android; alienating the
community just pushes the community to other manufacturers that are considered
more friendly.

Motorola has gone a step further and explicitly told power users NOT to buy Motorola
phones. Again from the blog of Lori Fraleigh mentioned above, she said (presumably
speaking for Motorola):

We understand there is a community of developers interested in going beyond

Android application development and experimenting with Android system development

and re-flashing phones. For these developers, we highly recommend obtaining either a

Google ADP1 developer phone or a Nexus One, both of which are intended for these


In identifying the people that are interested in re-flashing phones as a “community of
developers,” she is either deliberately glossing over the real issues or she is showing
her complete lack of understanding of the communities that have surfaced around
various smart phones. Developers are not the only ones that re-flash phones. If that’s
what Motorola truly believes then they need to get someone in there quick to explain
things to them.

There are plenty of technically savvy non-developers that load new images to their
phones because they want a certain feature. Flashing phones has gone from
developers to power users to regular people who are comfortable using phones and
computers. Likewise, there are people that look at being able to load new images on
their phones as a way to protect the investment they spent on the phone hardware,
extending the lifespan of their phone while letting them continue to take advantage of
new features and capabilities typically available only on the newest handsets or in the
newest releases of their phone’s operating system.

Carriers and handset manufacturers are motivated NOT to upgrade phones, even
though technically possible, by their desire to sell new phones and, for carriers, extend
people’s contracts. For that reason it is most often left to the communities to develop
the means to port new capabilities, features or operating systems to various phones,
including older models. Phones that are easily updated often gain additional traction in
the minds of people, not just power users but regular people, thanks to friends or
friends of friends that mention how ?exible or powerful a given phone can be.

Likewise, companies that make those phones also become elevated in the minds of

All of this affects purchasing decisions. Someone comparing Windows Mobile phones
before a purchase may face a choice between HTC or Samsung. HTC may be selected
because HTC phones traditionally have proven more flexible and easier to update and/or tweak. Now with Android phones, people are faced with the same decision: buy
HTC, Motorola, Samsung, or something else.

Reading comments on various news and blog sites about the Droid X it is clear that
many have purchased the Droid X with the expectation that they’ll be able to eventually
put whatever images they choose on their phone. Motorola doesn’t seem to
understand or recognize how many regular people, not just power users or developers,
are buying the Droid X with this expectation, and what the repercussions to Motorola
will be if those expectations are never met.

The Droid X is an unquestioned success, quickly selling out on the day it was released.
The buzz and respect built from the original Droid has most assuredly done its job and
influenced the purchasing decisions of a lot of people. The hardware seems to be top
notch. Only time will tell whether the growing backlash of power users angry at
Motorola’s inclusion of encrypted boot loaders and self-destruct measures picks up
steam and aects Motorola in the long term, if Motorola learns their lesson and returns
to making their phones like the original Droid, or if, in the end, the very power users
that helped make the Droid so successful and turn around Motorola’s fortunes are
simply no longer important to Motorola. Until then, if the ability to tweak your phone is
an important feature, as it is with many Android users, then Motorola has given all of
us the best advice possible: buy someone else’s phone.

* Traditionally turning a phone into a “brick” meant rendering a phone totally
inoperable, usually after a failed flash attempt. Recovery was sometimes possible by
various low-level operations, but not always successful. Motorola has explained that
eFuse, enabled in the Droid X but not in the original Droid, would refuse to boot and
instead enter what is essentially an infinite reboot loop until “authorized” code is found
and able to be booted. The phone becomes unusable. It is not known whether or not
the so-called authorized code could be replaced and the phone restored to operational
condition or if the phone would have to be returned to the carrier or Motorola for
repairs. Either way, Motorola may have just been responsible for broadening the
definition of “brick.”


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