Proposal to Allow Rooting Android

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Rooting is the process of gaining low-level control of your cell phone’s operating system (I’m only going to discuss Android in this post). It voids your warranty (presumably both from your carrier and the phone manufacturer). That’s fine, perhaps it even should.

Still, carriers and phone companies try to actively stop you from rooting. There are a few obviously legitimate reasons/concerns on their part:

  1. Supporting a rooted phone can cost the companies in a number of ways
  2. Rooted phones can be used to access services that the carriers want to charge a premium for (e.g., Tethering)
  3. Problems with a rooted phone are often misunderstood by the consumer, reflecting incorrectly (and poorly) on the carrier or phone manufacturer

There are also a few shakier arguments against rooting. Rather than give them credence, or get distracted in arguing their merits, let’s skip them.

There are many legitimate reasons to root, covered in many articles. Let’s leave that topic for a more technical post, this isn’t that.

A small percentage of consumers actually root, but given the explosive growth of Android phones worldwide, the absolute number of rooters is large. They are also the most vocal users, trying to convince others to do it too.

When a rooted phone goes bad, the consumer tries to unroot and return to stock (removing all traces of their previous rooting and customization), in the hopes that the carrier will then fix the phone or replace it under warranty. Of course, the carrier might not be able to detect that the phone was previously rooted and perhaps even ruined by virtue of the rooting (overclocking the CPU for example). In that case, the carrier may indeed incur a cost that they shouldn’t bear.

My proposal:

Make it brain dead easy to root. When rooting (using an app provided by the carrier/manufacturer), ensure that the consumer is warned of the dangers and that the warranty is being voided. Also ensure that they know their account is flagged that they have opted out of the warranty.

This removes any extra support costs. In fact, returning the phone to stock will make no difference, as the user has forever agreed that this specific phone has knowingly and willingly revoked it’s right to be serviced, for any reason whatsoever.

I would go further and suggest that the carriers/manufacturers will make more money in this scenario, because if the user just drops their phone and breaks it, it is not covered, period. That will cause some percentage of rooters to have to purchase a new phone should anything go wrong with their phone, even if it isn’t related to the rooting.

Of course, that might cause many people not to root. That shouldn’t bother the carriers, since that’s the position they would like to see today.

Next, concern #2 above. While there might be a number of concerns, mostly, it boils down to Tethering, the ability to use your phone as a WiFi or USB modem for your laptop. The concern is that you can utilize significantly more data/bandwidth in this manner (e.g., streaming movies to your laptop) than you would ever practically use on your phone itself (assuming you had an unlimited data plan on your phone to begin with).

The carriers are concerned about monetary loss (they charge a hefty price for devices that Tether, or for tethering plans on the phones) as well as network quality if too many people clog the airwaves (with or without paying them) and slow down the network for all users.

My proposed solution for #2 is to charge no premium for tethering (with or without rooting!), but simply meter the data (no more unlimited plans, or price unlimited plans knowing that people will tether). AT&T is doing this already, but they charge $20/month for the right to tether, which is outrageous, since they charge for every byte of data transferred. Who cares how/why I used the data, you charge me for it.

That’s it. Let’s summarize:

  1. Make the voided warranty an overt opt-in so that support costs go to zero for any rooted phone.
  2. Charge for all data coming through the phone (tiers are fine, including unlimited), so that the carriers benefit if people tether.