Android History 101

In the beginning, Android devices were exposed to developers to make the most of them, and they were good. The first Android phone, the HTC Dream (also known as the G1, launched on October 22, 2008), was a perfect example of this. Even after HTC stopped supporting the device, developers from the Android community were able to keep the phone updated with newer versions of Android as Google released them (up to and including Froyo, version 2.2 of Android).

Likewise, the first “hit” Android phone, the Motorola Droid (released on November 6, 2009), was open to developers from the Android community. The spirit of manufacturers, Google, enthusiasts, and developers created a tremendously successful, and profitable, ecosystem in these early days. (Since many like to compare Android to the iPhone, estimates put the original Motorola Droid at selling more phones than the original iPhone over the first 74 days, the time it took Apple to sell 1 million devices.)

After the Droid, however, Motorola began a new trend. This trend was to use technology to block developers and enthusiasts from enhancing their devices. This technique is commonly referred to as locking the bootloader (What is a Bootloader?). The trick to this technique was that Motorola would prevent customized versions of Android from being installed onto the phone with some clever use of cryptography.

Motorola’s Milestone, a global version of the Droid, was one of the first Android devices to include these restrictions. With the Milestone, users were forced to wait for Motorola to release updates for the phone in order to upgrade it with newer features.

The result of these restrictions was that the Droid began receiving usable versions of Froyo during July 2010 while the Milestone received Froyo a staggering 8 months later in March 2011. To date, the Droid has had Gingerbread (Android version 2.3) since February 2011 while the Milestone will never be able to be upgraded to this version of Android. So for a month, while the Droid was able to run Gingerbread, the Milestone was two versions behind on Android updates on two devices that are practically IDENTICAL HARDWARE.

After the Milestone, it became standard for all of Motorola’s devices to have a locked bootloader. Some other manufacturers began to follow this lead.

However, after observing the incredibly delayed (and completely absent) updates for the Milestone, the Android community began to cry out against this new trend. Some manufacturers have listened to their customers. Sony Ericsson provides an unlocked bootloader on many of their devices. HTC has now come out to say that they will be reversing their stance on locking bootloaders immediately and have even mentioned unlocking devices that were previously locked. Even Samsung has an unsupported tool called Odin to help developers get custom software onto their devices.