HTC has unveiled the full process for unlocking bootloaders on some of the phones in its 2011 lineup. HTC is sticking to its timeline by starting with compatibility for the European HTC Sensation and promising to bring along support for the Sensation 4G on T-Mobile and the Evo 3D on Sprint later on. The website for the process, HTCdev.com/bootloader, is full of stern warnings, details on how the entire process works, and how any issues you face as a result of unlocking your bootloader won't be covered under warranty -- including any future OTA updates that may not be compatible with your unlocked device.
See details on the process (and how HTC can likely track who uses it) after the break.
The process, as you can see above, is fairly convoluted:
- Use the Android SDK to get a unique identifier token for your Android smartphone
- Export that token
- Send that identifying token to HTCdev.com
- HTC generates a unique unlock key and sends it to you via email
- You can use that key to unlock the bootloader
It's not too surprising that unlocking a bootloader involves a complicated procedure -- even in the best of times it requires a fairly deep knowledge of the inner workings of an Android smartphone to unlock a bootloader. HTC makes no bones that this is an experts-only affair:
We strongly suggest that you do not unlock the bootloader unless you are confident that you understand the risks involved. This is a technical procedure and the side effects could possibly necessitate repairs to your device not covered under warranty. If you are still interested in unlocking the bootloader, and you understand the consequences both to your device and to your warranty, then you may refer to the following pages where we have provided the unlocking instructions.
Although HTC doesn't explicitly state that they are using the unique identifying token to track who is unlocking his or her bootloader, it seems pretty clear that this process is designed to help them do just that. In addition to needing a unique identifier for your phone, HTC also is keeping tabs on your IP address as you use this tool instead of using a more traditional cookie-based authentication:
Our site requires a single IP authentication, and if you are behind a corporate network that may alter your IP address, certain features may not work as intended.
In short, if you use this process to unlock your bootloader, expect that HTC will know you did it and will bring that knowledge to bear if you try to get a warranty repair or replacement down the road.
As we mentioned before, HTC has backpedaled on the promise to cease unlocking bootloaders. They will continue to lock them out of the box, but have fully committed to providing this tool "for 2011 models going forward." We suppose that could mean that they're not committing to anything beyond 2011, and even 2011 models aren't necessarily guaranteed to be unlockable:
HTC is committed to assisting customers in unlocking bootloaders for HTC devices. However, certain models may not be unlockable due to operator restrictions. Please refer to our list of supported devices to see if your device is eligible for unlocking the bootloader
So to wrap up: HTC wants to help unlock your bootloader, but you'll need to give them plenty of identifying information in order to do it. It's also not a guarantee that all HTC phones will be unlockable via this tool: so far only the HTC Sensation (EU), HTC Sensation 4G, and HTC Evo 3D have been promised. While all these caveats and warnings surely mean that HTC's decision isn't quite as hacker-friendly as it originally seemed, it's still a step in the right direction. Hopefully this step forward won't be countered with two steps back next year.