azrienoch · Nov 8, 2011 at 12:00 pm

HTC’s Likely Rezounding Disappointment

I was thinking about the HTC Rezound today.  I do that sometimes–sit down and let my thoughts wander. I thought about its three-way fight within Verizon against the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and Motorola Droid RAZR, and how it will fare this Christmas season.  I also thought about TrevE’s work on HTC’s astounding Carrier IQ screw-up. And I came up with a target market based on privacy and security to whom no manufacturer has managed to sell phones yet:  the hopeless-paranoid.

See, on one extreme, there’s the non-paranoid.  These people either think they have everything under control or don’t care if they have control.  They’re the ones who buy crappy phones on contract.  They have no interest in phones, it’s just something they use and could easily afford at the moment.

At the opposite extreme, there’s the empowered-paranoid.  These are developers and other early adopters who use independent development.  They constantly seek the best phones either because it shouldn’t have the flaws of crappier phones, or because, if it does have problems, they can do something about it and not feel like they’re wasting time developing for sub-par hardware.

If we imagine a square to give a two-dimensional range to my envisioned market, in another corner are the paranoid-curious.  These people don’t worry too much, but their brains pump out thoughts often enough that they can at least spare a few to consider the advice of developers and early adopters.  That means worrying about privacy and security to some degree.  They buy higher-end phones because the empowered-paranoid–who are, again, developers and early adopters–encourage it.

Then there’s the hopeless-paranoid.  These people have all the security and privacy concerns of developers, yet feel they have no way to correct it.  Which phones do they buy?  They don’t.  The only thing they know to do when they’re worried about their privacy is to avoid the thing that makes them worry.  They aren’t worried about specific security issues–they don’t actually know enough to worry like that.  They’re worried about everything.  They say things like, “I don’t want people to be able to call me no matter where I am.”   We’ve all heard lines like that, and we all know it’s silly.  If you don’t want to talk to people at a certain time, turn off your phone.  No, they’re worried about more than being so accessible.

Now, you may be asking, is there actually any reason to be paranoid?  I guess that depends.  I reread some of the articles egzthunder1 wrote covering all TrevE’s amazing work exposing the dirty little secrets of HTC and the carriers.  And while he focuses on HTC phones, make no mistake that other manufacturers are doing the same.

Nevermind the security flaws that allow any app with Internet access to intercept the data that Carrier IQ, HTCLogger, etc. collect.  HTC and the carriers collect enough data to know pretty much everything about your phone habits.  Verizon changed their privacy policy to say that while you can opt out of letting them sell your information to other companies, they’re still collecting and keeping that data.  And Sprint… Sprint doesn’t even let you opt out.  They’re giving away information about you to whomever they like.  That could be companies.  That could be law enforcement.  You don’t get to say who they give it to, you don’t get to say what information they give, and you don’t get to say that they cannot collect it.

So yes, I think paranoia is justified.  And thank goodness for all the developers that work so hard to strip Carrier IQ and their ilk from ROMs.  To a certain extent, thank goodness for the manufacturers and carriers that openly support development by not locking down devices.  To the carriers and manufacturers who try to keep us from developing their devices, let me introduce you to the above four target markets.  I suggest you change your minds.  To HTC specifically, we see how developer-friendly you’re trying to be, but we see your devotion to carriers like Verizon more.  You need to decide that Peter Chou lied and bootloaders will not be unlocked, or you need to stand up for yourselves.

There is a point to all this.  As I said, I was thinking about the HTC Rezound, announced last week.  And since it’s on Verizon, its bootloaders will probably be locked.  That’s a clear move to prevent development.  So do something for me:  pretend the bootloader can’t be unlocked through exploits.  We can’t get S-Off, we can’t get root, no custom bootloader, no custom kernels or custom ROMs.  To put it simply, developers can’t develop.  All that paranoia and nothing can be done about it.

Which of those four groups of people does that sound like?  That’s right.  The hopeless-paranoid.  The people who don’t buy phones.  Except, in this case, they don’t buy your phones.  The only difference is, developers influence the buying habits of that large group of paranoid-curious people. The HTC Rezound?  Great specs.  Too bad the bootloader won’t be unlocked.  And doubly too-bad, HTC, that you made the Rezound exclusively for Verizon, the US carrier certain to get the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

Merry Christmas, HTC.  Perhaps you’ll remember us in your New Years resolutions.


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