The Samsung Galaxy S 4 was just released a few days ago, going on sale across the US through most carriers (root already achieved). Reviews are somewhat mixed, with some claiming this to be the latest best thing in smartphone history, while others are not so impressed. US carrier versions seem to suffer from carrier-itis, which is a medical term for “severely crippled and loaded to the eyeballs with bloatware“. If history has taught us anything since the Galaxy family has been around, it is the fact that Verizon Wireless tends to lock the daylights out of every phone in in their line up. It is in fact, one of the only carriers world wide that actually sell bootloader locked Galaxy devices (as well as many other devices). Well, Verizon, it looks like your worst nightmare is coming as AT&T is going to start following your same model as well. According to a review posted by Engadget as well as several people talking in IRC channels, and topped off with a comment by Mr. Cyanogen himself, it seems to be that the “death star” is bringing in Samsung’s latest and greatest with a big slap in the face of all developers: The phone has a locked bootloader.
I know that at this point, Samsung is probably hiding behind the carriers, using them as shields, contractual obligations, yadda, yadda, yadda. We tend to think that this is a somewhat valid excuse, but the truth of the matter is that when a certain company reaches a point of critical mass in terms of how big it actually is, the tables turn. In other words, AT&T’s success (or Verizon’s for that matter) is not just dictated by the quality of its network. One thing that people also look at in this day and age, is the wide array and variety of top of the line devices being offered. The combination of both certainly makes up for about 90% of the total success of a carrier, with the remaining 10% attributed to good customer service. So, that leaves you at, quite possibly (and being a bit conservative) on a 60-30 split in terms of importance. After all, you could have a 5G network, but if you have no phones to support it, what good is it? I guess what I am trying to say here is that Samsung definitely had a lot of weight in negotiations in order to avoid caving in like this, which makes me wonder even more if the Korean manufacturer is in fact leaning towards the dark side.
The SGS4 International and T-Mobile versions are sold unlocked and are perfectly capable of taking the market by force. Why do you let two carriers dictate how you make your products? I hope that Samsung realizes that they likely have considerable weight as people nowadays are happy about devices performing well, and not so much about getting over 9000 Mbps in speed (particularly when you will be capped or hit a limit). So, Samsung, you ARE driving the market and the continued success for these carriers and not the other way around. At this point in time, I can draw two conclusions:
The path you are taking right now is likely #2, as you obviously can spend a pretty penny on half decent lawyers (based on recent wins against Cupertino’s finest). In fact, it seems to me that you are turning into what you claimed to despise the most. You have absolutely, positively, nothing at all to gain from locking the bootloader (and neither does AT&T for that matter), and in fact, you are simply losing a good stream of bug reviewers and people who can discover pretty serious flaws in your code. Let alone the sole fact that, regardless of your statements about us (us being the developer and hobbyist world) representing a small fraction of your overall sales, you will definitely lose lots and lots of potential sales, which will translate into millions of dollars of lost revenue. Again, having someone with as massive of a following as Steve Kondik telling hundreds of thousands of users from this group not to buy this device… well, lets just say that I sincerely hope your contract with AT&T has a provision for getting paid back for unsold devices.
Well, Samsung, if for argument’s sake you are indeed being locked by AT&T into this nonsensical contractual provision, you are effectively the proverbial elephant with a chain around its ankle. For those of you not familiar with this analogy, when an elephant is young, it can be chained easily to prevent it from escaping. As the elephant grows up, the chain can no longer restrain it, but the elephant does not break it because it knows in its head that it will not be able to, even though it can. You needed to be around when you were a smaller player in the market and as such, you took upon weird termed contracts and accepted certain conditions from carriers. Fast forward 12 years or so since the boom of mobile devices and your introduction to the world of mobile communications. You are now a behemoth and are still bound by the same stupid chain, refusing to break it because you think you will hurt your business. You are a provider, you have many, many venues to get your products out to your customers (other carriers, developer edition phones, selling directly, etc). God only knows how many millions of dollars you spend yearly on marketing efforts, so getting your name out there is not exactly an issue either. Why in the world are you letting a single (well, two if you count Verizon) dictate how YOU do business? You have successfully made a name for yourselves already. I am positive that IF you were to threaten carriers to pull your devices from their networks, they would effectively soil themselves. Oh, and there is no law protecting them from being able to block your devices from working with their network either. It would likely fall under the umbrella of anti-competitive practices (aka boycott). Considering past/recent events involving carriers (DMCA and the T-Mobile/AT&T failed merger, for instance), I am sure that any court would be thrilled to hear such a case and rip the carriers to shreds.
So, I am sincerely hoping that you are indeed being forced by carriers AND that you are taking resolutions to tackle this pointless ordeal. All I am going to say is that after a 1 year affair with an Epic 4G Touch, being afraid to brick my device for flashing it as it was hard brick positive due to faulty chips (even with a documented reason AND fix provided by our developers which you paid no attention to whatsoever); and after seeing this ongoing trend by Samsung to bend over for carriers while making developer’s lives miserable and caring little about their users, I will gladly never recommend Samsung devices to anyone ever again. Just because I can, here is Steve Kondik’s closing statement on his Google+ post:
I would not recommend buying this device on AT&T if you want to run CyanogenMod or another custom ROM, or if you are a developer and need to work with or debug the lower layers.
It is now time to act and try to save face, Samsung.