“There are no airplanes, only computers that fly. There are no cars, only computers we sit in. There are no hearing aids, only computers we put in our ears. There are no 3D printers, only computers that drive peripherals. There are no radios, only computers with fast ADCs and DACs and phased-array antennas. Consequently anything you do to ‘secure’ anything with a computer in it ends up undermining the capabilities and security of every other corner of modern human society.”
That’s an excerpt from Cory Doctorow’s 2011 keynote at the Chaos Computer Congress in Berlin. I’m reminded of it every time I flash an updated ROM on the latest Nexus phone or tablet—aka the small computers in my pocket and on my bedside table.
This week Google CEO Sundar Pichai hinted at new features coming to Nexus phones. For me, the changes are already here. And they’re terrible.
First there was the verified boot warning, a new “feature” in Android Marshmallow—useful if you’re buying a second-hand Nexus on Kijiji but downright insulting if you know damn well your bootloader is unlocked, thank-you very much.
The vendor image issue you see illustrated in the screen grab above first appeared on my 2014 Nexus 9; it’s an extra partition on your phone or tablet, and the only reason I can come up with for its existence is to be an impediment to installing third-party software on said phone or tablet. The warning goes away if you download the latest factory image and flash its vendor image partition onto your device, and again I see the end game here: to make it such a hassle to flash a custom ROM that you just won’t bother anymore.
I understand that everyone’s smartphone needs are different, but root-level privileges and custom ROMs are exactly the features that keep me loyal to Android—if I wanted a locked-down Internet appliance, why wouldn’t I just buy an iPhone?