Back when I first started using Android, I didn't hesitate to dive into rooting a phone if it lacked some sort of functionality I needed or desired. In fact, I didn't hesitate to root an Android phone for no reason at all. I would unpack a phone, play around with the interface for a short while and plug it up to my computer to invoke a few commands through a terminal and grant myself root access.
If I were to estimate how many Android devices I have rooted to date, I would guess the number is upwards of 80 … or roughly 65 phones and 15 tablets. Some are as easy to root as plugging into a computer, typing "fastboot oem unlock" and pushing a couple files. Others have stolen umpteen hours of my life that I will never get back.
That said, every minute of rooting and modding a device has always been an enjoyment. Even when things go completely haywire, it was always a learning experience and well worth my time to dig deeper, do a little investigating and understand exactly what went wrong and where. There was (and still is, for that matter) an assortment of different hacks and mods to be done to each and every device I have ever owned – admittedly, more with some than others. The endless list of different tweaks to perform made it worth every minute.
But the more I use various phones and the more well-rounded the stock software becomes, the more frustrated I become with rooting and other various mods becoming a crutch for the Android operating system.
I know, I get it. Android is open source, and if there is a piece of the software someone doesn't particularly like, it can be changed with a little know-how and a little spare time in front of a computer. That is well and great. But it shouldn't be a default excuse for the shortcomings of the platform itself.
How do I mean? If there is ever some fatal flaw, some gaping shortcoming of Android or one of its many variants, "it can be fixed with [insert arbitrary mod name here]." Last night, for example, I wrote that the one thing I constantly miss when I use my HTC One X is Google Now and the improvements in Google voice search found in the latest software update, Jelly Bean. The One X on AT&T is officially running Android 4.0 with the Sense 4 skin and is likely several months away from getting Jelly Bean and the respective features I desire.
To absolutely no surprise at all and completely disregarding my point (despite me even clearly stating it in the article itself), some commenters suggested I root my One X so I can get Google Now up and running on my favorite device. In the article, I said, "To be clear, I could hack and mod my One X to retrofit it with Google Now. But that's neither the point or something I'm willing to do at this time." Regardless, one of a few similar comments read:
"Running Google Now on my One X and I love it. Its not hard to root, unlock the bootloader, and install a custom rom. You make it seem likes it's an all day chore. It takes 10 mins and you'll have Google Now up and running. The AOKP and CM10 builds are actually pretty nice on the HOX also."
I don't really care that a reader – likely more than just one – missed my point. I don't care that they suggested I do exactly what I said I didn't want to do. That's not the first or last time that will ever happen. I am, however, upset that rooting and flashing ROMs has become the default answer to everything Android. Don't like your phone's software? Root. Want the latest update and don't have a Nexus? Root. Or maybe you have a (faux) Nexus, like the LTE one on Verizon or Sprint, and you're still waiting for your official Jelly Bean update. Dude, what are you waiting for? Root the thing already!
But maybe, just maybe people don't like Android because they can root it and modify the software of their particular device seven ways 'till Sunday. Maybe, just maybe some people want to be able to use a device as it is shipped by the manufacturer without any major issues that they have to fix themselves. And maybe it's time we kick the open source crutch out from under the Android manufacturers. Although I've contemplated it myself, I shouldn't have to root (and mod) my One X to have Android 4.1 on it in less than six months from the time Google releases the source code.
Before the One X launched, when I decided that was definitely going to be my next personal phone, I was met with some pretty nasty jabs from my peers in the Android community. "Why would you buy that? It's going to be locked down. You won't be able to do anything with it for a while." I didn't care. I still don't. I'm to the point where if I don't like a phone, as is, I'm probably not going to like it any other way.
Maybe I'm just getting old and cynical. Or maybe I'm just tired of bugs, slow updates and buggy, unofficial software. Then again, I could just be burned out of rooting, hacking and modding. After all, I have spent entirely too much time setting up new ROMs on all of my devices over the years. But through it all, I have learned that, generally, no matter how much hacking and modding I do, I rarely like a device more than when I first rip the plastic wrapping off.
For me, rooting isn't something I just do anymore. It's not something I particularly enjoy anymore either. That ship has sailed. I just want phones that work and get updates on a fairly regular schedule. (Then again, if you expect software updates at all … for any device, you're doing it wrong.) Rooting has quickly become a last resort, something I only want to have to do in a dire case, not something I immediately have to jump to when I tear my phone out of the box.
Where do you stand on rooting and modding, readers? Is it something you actively do? Are you afraid of voiding your device's warranty? Or, like me, is it something you used to do and have grown tired of?