Transformer Prime buyers believe unlocked bootloader is an inalienable right

Transformer Prime buyers believe unlocked bootloader is an inalienable right

Summary: Updated: The ASUS Transformer Prime has an encrypted locked bootloader, and buyers are campaigning the company to unlock it. ASUS responds with an unlocker, and blames Google.

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Updated: There is an interesting situation playing out in the Android world as buyers of the ASUS Transformer Prime have discovered that the company has pulled a fast one on them. The Transformer Prime is the new tablet from ASUS that has the unique laptop dock available that makes the device the tablet to beat. What has buyers riled up is the discovery that the the Transformer Prime is shipping with not only a locked bootloader, it's also encrypted making it practically impossible to load custom ROMs. Buyers have started an online campaign to make ASUS unlock the bootloader to open it up to homebrew modifications.

I have been following this situation since it developed, as I really like the Transformer Prime. It's not clear why ASUS chose to lock down the tablet, but it is clear that Android enthusiasts are upset over the decision. The fact that ASUS didn't indicate this would be the case in advance has fanned the flames of discontent, as buyers didn't discover until after they bought the Transformer Prime that it was locked down.

The online discussion over this turn of events makes it clear that the enthusiasts picking up this tablet believe it is their right to modify the device if they desire. Yes, rooting Android devices and installing third party ROMs violates the warranty of the gadget, but these buyers demand the ability to do so if they want. It leads to an interesting debate, should Android devices be hackable because the OS is "open", or do OEMs have the right to lock them down?

This is not the first device to ship with a locked bootloader, nearly every OEM has done this with one phone or another in the past. The enthusiast community always rallies, and most OEMs have stopped the practice of locking down the bootloaders. It has become a kind of "we don't support your modding but we won't prevent it" truce between the community and the OEMs.

What makes the situation with the Transformer Prime so interesting is that some buyers feel that since they didn't know prior to the purchase that the device was locked, they were fooled into making the purchase. An unlocked device is their "right", and since they were "tricked" into the purchase they should be able to return the tablet. This is where it gets sticky, since technically hacking the device violates the EULA or equivalent. Is ASUS denying buyer's rights by shutting down the ability to hack it?

I have been putting custom ROMs on my Android phones for years, and appreciate the ability to do so. I'm not sure I would agree that all Android devices should be open if the OEM chooses not to do so, however. My approach has been if a particular phone is locked and I want to hack it, then I don't buy it. I don't believe forcing the OEM to make it unlocked is necessarily the way to go. It is an interesting dilemma indeed.

What do you think, should OEMs be forced to make Android devices with unlocked bootloaders, or should we let the open market dictate this? Leave a comment with your thoughts about unlocked bootloaders.

Update: ASUS has posted on its Facebook page that it will release an unlock tool for the Transformer Prime. The company blames the Google DRM for video rentals for the decision to lock the bootloader, and point out that anyone unlocking the Prime will not be able to use Google's video rental service.

Regarding the bootloader, the reason we chose to lock it is due to content providers' requirement for DRM client devices to be as secure as possible. ASUS supports Google DRM in order to provide users with a high quality video rental experience. Also, based on our experience, users who choose to root their devices risk breaking the system completely. However, we know there is demand in the modding community to have an unlocked bootloader. Therefore, ASUS is developing an unlock tool for that community. Please do note that if you choose to unlock your device, the ASUS warranty will be void, and Google video rental will also be unavailable because the device will be no longer protected by security mechanism.

Last year Google shut down the ability to use the video streaming service for Android devices that had been rooted. This is a further indication that those who root their Android phones or tablets may face the loss of DRM-protected Google services in the future.

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Topics: Tablets, Android, Google, Hardware, Laptops, Lenovo, Mobile OS, Samsung, Security

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49 comments
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  • Lock, but provide release of EULA

    Lock the bootloader by default. Most of the user, I suspect, do not MOD the OS. ASUS is mitigating their warranty risk for Bricked devices. They should provide an "unlock" code (per serial number) to release the encryption and provide it with a signed/logged release of the EULA. Let the % of Modders do their thing (accepting the risk).
    peter.marek@...
    • RE: Transformer Prime buyers believe unlocked bootloader is an inalienable right

      @peter.marek@... Yes, lock the bootloader by default and tell people upfront that you're doing it. See your sales never get off the ground and lose any enthusiast support right out of the gate. See how far that gets you.
      marbo100
    • Sounds like hacker hatred

      @peter.marek@... There wouldn't be a problem with bricked devices if Asus did what HP did with the TouchPad and provide a way to dump the entire core OS and bootloader back onto the device, thus erasing everything that was done to it and returning it to a factory-new state. Did you prevent your tablet from booting? Get to the boot menu and dump everything back so that it's as good as new. Asus doesn't get bothered you learn a lesson about being more careful playing with something you spent $500 on.
      JLBer
    • RE: Transformer Prime buyers believe unlocked bootloader is an inalienable right

      IT'S OFFICIAL! ASUS in their facebook page, just announced that they will provide a tool to UNLOCK the bootloader.
      larryvand
    • RE: Transformer Prime buyers believe unlocked bootloader is an inalienable right

      @peter.marek@... So I buy a car an can only go 5 MPH without the dealer telling me until I drive off the lot...IF one is transparent that is fair, hide my use as I SEE FIT, is not only rude, it is the worst respect a company can pull on its clients. I refuse to now buy Samsung due to their rude behavior. I just purchased a 3D LED TV, HTIB, etc from LG, A table from Toshiba, etc whereas I previously had all Samsung products. NEVER again...unless they stop their NO 4.0 for the current "S" as it will run 4.0 without their business practices to "Make" it so...the CEO needs to step down as the honorable thing!
      heredavid
  • RE: Transformer Prime buyers believe unlocked bootloader is an inalienable right

    When I buy a computer, I expect that I can reload it with Linux or update it to the latest version of Windows when it comes out. Many users do not want to do those things. They feel that they will be getting updates to the system they purchased for as long as they will be using it. I guess I keep my systems longer.

    This does not protect Asus from "bricked" systems either. If the bootloader was open, a simple image could be provided to factory restore a tablet in the same way as any other computer. I don't know anyone that has returned their computer for a software issue like this. Support simply tells them to re-install from the recovery partition or cd.

    Treating this like any other computer would be best for the end user AND Asus support.
    LouisRLinux
  • RE: Transformer Prime buyers believe unlocked bootloader is an inalienable right

    This is why fragmentation is not an issue on Android. Most people are rooting the devices anyway and loading clean ROMs. It's similar to reloading a clean Windows install to remove the spyware and crap when you buy an HP. That's also why the quickest way to loose Android sales is to lock the boot loader, it forces fragmented provider locked OS's on the consumer.
    Socratesfoot
    • RE: Transformer Prime buyers believe unlocked bootloader is an inalienable right

      @Socratesfoot 'Most people' have no idea what a bootloader is, nor do they have any idea what rooting is. Heck most people I know double click links on the web. For the tiny percentage of the population (us geeks) that actually root phones (and read & comment on tech site), I agree, it is a big issue.
      Gritztastic
  • Why not provide the option ...

    ... provide two versions, locked and unlocked ... locked comes with a warranty, unlocked does not ...

    Seems simple to me ...

    Ludo
    Ludovit
    • RE: Transformer Prime buyers believe unlocked bootloader is an inalienable right

      @Ludovit

      It doesn't even have to be that complicated. A repair tech can tell in 30 seconds or less whether a ROM has been replaced with an unofficial version. Just consider a tablet with a replaced ROM to have voided the warranty, and the customer should be billed for the time wasted before having the tablet returned.
      Michael Kelly
      • RE: Transformer Prime buyers believe unlocked bootloader is an inalienable right

        @Michael Kelly
        Billing or refusing to return the tablets sent in on bogus claims would be a nightmare. Much better to have two distinct products. If you choose to buy the "enthusiast" version, don't even try to send it back when you fry it.
        john-whorfin
      • RE: Transformer Prime buyers believe unlocked bootloader is an inalienable right

        @john-whorfin Speaking from the perspective of an ex-logistics person who has also worked in freight claims, keeping two separate SKUs would be much more of a nightmare than dealing with a small uptick in voided warranty returns. How many devices do you make of each type? What if you end up with more locked/unlocked than the market wants? What if they need more locked in store X and you've only got several thousand unlocked sitting in the warehouse taking up space that there's no buyer for yet?
        Did you ever buy a product in America that also had French labeling information on it? That's so that the goods can be sold in America or Canada depending on demand/circumstances. Same with electronic devices having 10 different menu languages built in. From a logistics point of view, you don't want any more SKUs than you need.
        jgm@...
  • RE: Transformer Prime buyers believe unlocked bootloader is an inalienable right

    On Facebook, ASUS says the unlocked bootloader is coming soon.
    tn77
  • RE: Transformer Prime buyers believe unlocked bootloader is an inalienable right

    Microsoft should allow the UEFI to have an off switch, so that people can...

    Oh, wait, wrong story.

    Having a locked and encrypted loader means that it is very difficult (never say impossible) for somebody to install a root-kit.

    That said, I would suspect, that the silent majority haven't a clue about unlocking and installing 3rd party ROMs. For them, it is a very good safety feature.

    Should enthusiasts be allowed to unlock? Hmm, why not, as long as they realise, that if they screw up the device, they are on their own, no warranty claims.
    wright_is
  • RE: Transformer Prime buyers believe unlocked bootloader is an inalienable right

    It worked, free advertisement of the new product. Causing controversy and communication.
    kaskij
  • RE: Transformer Prime buyers believe unlocked bootloader is an inalienable right

    If Asus wants to lock the bootloader, that should be their choice. Let the free market show them the success or error of that decision. If enough users reject the device because of this choice, they will unlock the bootloader
    richard.may@...
    • RE: Transformer Prime buyers believe unlocked bootloader is an inalienable right

      @richard.may@... I agree only if they clearly state in their advertising and Promos' that the condition exists. Then people can make an intelligent choice based on facts!!
      arlkay@...
  • It's not a "right", but...

    If I can re-pave my Macbook Air as a Windows 7 machine (which I did), then I would think that any Android device could be similarly re-paved.

    Even iPads can be jail broken, although to be honest I don't know if it's the same thing as what the Android modders are trying to do.
    Speednet
  • Why void the warranty?

    I don't buy the whole "void the warranty" thing. If the hardware can be permanently damaged by software, the hardware design is fundamentally flawed. The manufacturer shouldn't be able to hide behind a locked bootloader or a EULA to escape liability for a defective product design.
    johndoe445566
    • RE: Transformer Prime buyers believe unlocked bootloader is an inalienable right

      @johndoe445566
      unlocking can lead to overclocking, leading to fried components as users push the components beyond what they were designed to handle. Defective users, not defective design...
      john-whorfin