Motorola Doubles Down on Android, Ticks off Power-Users


What operating system runs on Motorola phones? There was a time when Motorola had their own OS than ran their phones. Today that landscape is changing. Today, Motorola is almost exclusively an Android shop.

According to John Ellis, director of software and services for Motorola put it this way: “We doubled down on our bets with Google. We’re happy about it. Sanjay is raving about it. … The complexity for us was monstrous. We would have internal development paralysis because we were afraid of breaking anything.” (

On this surface, this is a very, very good thing. Looking at the Android-powered devices which have come from Motorola recently (and ignoring the Cliq/Cliq XT, and Backflip), they have pushed Android to the forefront of technology. What’s not so good is how each iteration of “Droid” has gotten harder and harder to root.

Lori Fraleigh, MOTODEV team manager at Motorola said the following:

“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 purposes. At this time, Motorola Android-based handsets are intended for use by consumers and Android application developers, and we have currently chosen not to go into the business of providing fully unlocked developer phones.” (emphasis added)

In short, Motorola is saying “if you want to run a custom ROM, buy your phone from someone else”.

What’s unfortunate in this statement is that it’s not so much about developers wanting “unlocked developer phones”, it’s about power-users wanting to flash custom ROMs on that hardware. Those ROMs might get rid of MotoBlur, allow for third-party launchers, have kernel tweaks, speed improvements, and other features not included with the stock Motorola ROM.

Take CyanogenMod ROM, for example. Here, one group of dedicated developers has combined many, many tweaks, updates, enhancements, and optimizations, and bundled them together. Others then take this bundle and apply it to a particular phone’s framework (the drivers and settings needed for the “bundle” to talk to the phone’s hardware). This method allows a single codebase to be applied to a wide range of phones, and explains how CyanogenMod is now available for several phones, not just the G1 and Nexus One. There’s even a CyanogenMod ROM for the Motorola Droid.

But Motorola’s insistence on locking their hardware (which is YOUR hardware after you purchase it) tighter and tighter makes it very difficult for power-users to root their phones and run custom ROMs. This is hurting Motorola’s perception in the eyes of the developers and power-users. Whether or not you actually root your phone and load up a custom ROM isn’t the issue — not having the freedom to do so is.

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy". By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video. Read more about Joe Levi here.