Open letter to Verizon: It’s *my* phone

Dear Verizon

I have had a love-hate relationship with you for well over a decade.#In that time I have gone through several varieties of flip phones and two smart phones — and am about to move to my third. I have found your service to be first-rate — I can drive from my house to Florida, a journey of nearly a thousand miles — without losing voice or data connectivity. Bravo.

When I started with you many years ago, I found you to be both reasonable and proactive. Your Customer Service was matchless; when you made a billing error on your favor, you refunded me twice the difference. I have not seen that before or since. Bravo.

However, my recent experiences with you have left me wondering if you are suffering from some form of corporate form of megalomania.

My first Smartphone was a Motorola Droid X2. I had opted for an Android-powered phone as I knew that Android was an “open” system. Unlike most others, which are shrouded in secrecy, the Android Operating System is “open-source” which means that the source code for the operating system was freely available for download, which means that members of the public can access the source code and “roll their own” operating systems — and before long, communities of folks appeared on the internet who love to do just that. As a tinkerer, this appealed to me. As a consumer, I saw that this made it possible to extend the life of a phone beyond the date at which the manufacturer will support it.

This was particularly important in the case of the Droid X2: while on paper, this was an excellent piece of kit (it was one of the earliest phones to have a dual-core processor), it suffered from reliability/heat problems. One of its favorite party pieces was to freeze/lock-up/reboot while on the road while I was using it for navigation.#Being the adventurous type, I looked around for the solution to this problem, and I found it in the form of “rooting”. I have already written on this subject of rooting, so I will not bore you with the details. Any road up, with a little research, a lot of reading and a bit of work, I was able to “root” the phone and disable or remove unnecessary software. This made the phone run faster, more reliably and with less overheating and fewer freezes.

But time marches on, and so does Android; The phone went through several updates, from Android version 2.2 (“Froyo”) to 2.3.5 (“Gingerbred). Like all Android updated, these changes originated from Google, but went through you before they got to your phone. And you could not resist the temptation to add little “gifts” in the form of “security enhancements” — and it seems that the removal of root access was always at the top of your list. As a result, every time an Over-The-Air update (“OTA”) became available, I had to avoid, delay or turn off the update mechanism until some bright spark could figure out if this update broke root, and how to get the useful Android updates that I wanted without losing the control of the phone that I had worked so hard to obtain.

Time went by, and I outgrew the DX2; it was no longer man enough for some of the tasks that it was being called upon to perform. So I upgraded to a Samsung Galaxy S3. This one started at Android 4.0.4 (“Ice Cream Sandwich”), and this time you saw fit to “lock” the bootloader in an attempt to prevent S3 owners like me from actually doing what they wanted with their phones. But thanks to some innovative hackery, the bootloader was speedily unlocked, and the phone was liberated from your shackles. Naturally, I rooted it right out of the box. Further updates came — Android 4.3 (“Jellybean”) and 4.4 (“Kitkat”), and at every turn you kept finding new and innovative ways to lock down my phone and make it ever more unhackable — all in the name of “security”.

Eventually I tired of fighting with your destructive updates and installed a Custom ROM. Yes, you don’t approve. I get that. Yes, that means that you won’t support it; I guess that’s the price of freedom.

The Samsung Galaxy S3 is now three years old, and one of the best-selling Android phones in history. But time marches on, and newer, faster phones have become available. I just purchased a used S4, and this will be my third smartphone. It will be placed into service in a few weeks, as soon as:

  1. I have a case for it, and
  2. I have found way to root it and remove all of your shovelware.

I am not your typical user. I understand that 99% of your user base neither need nor want rooted phones; I get that. For the majority of users, rooting is giving them more power than they need. And I understand that your Customer Support folks do not want to deal with a thousand hacked variants of every phone on the market. It is not unrealistic to insist that these phones be tamper-proofed while under warranty, and it is not unreasonable to deny support for tampered phones if the tampering is the cause of the problem. I get that. But this is a problem that can be solved to everyone’s satisfaction.

This is not without precedent. Until recently, you, like all cell phone carriers, locked your phones to prevent them from being connected to other carriers; nobody wanted to be the first to find their phones being connected to competing services. But Congress has recently ruled that all cell phone companies should unlock phones on demand. This has the effect of making phones more useful and extending their lives, rather then becoming expensive doorstops.

Yours is the only major cellphone company in the world that goes to such extraordinary lengths to lock down your phones. For the vast majority of your users, this is understandable, but for the 1% of technically competent users who wish to exercise control of their phones at the expense of warranty support, you should allow unlocking of bootloaders and allow those of us who wish to tinker with our phones the freedom to do so.

After all. It’s my phone.

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