In recent times Sony have been extremely developer friendly, offering help to the developer community on XDA Developers when creating custom ROMS for Sony devices. Sony offer an official bootloader unlock tool (that does NOT automatically void your warranty) and are generally developer and Android friendly also sending a lot of patches upstream into the AOSP codebase. They coded the base to the new theme engine inside CyanogenMod and most other current custom ROMs and have also opened up a public kernel repo to let community developers contribute to MSM8x74 family of devices. Despite all of this all is not sugar and spice in Sony-XDA relationship at the moment though.
Users have found that after using the official bootloader unlock tool from Sony to unlock their devices the camera did not work as well. The noise reduction algorithm for the camera is disabled thereby making low-light performance worse. This is not all that is broken by unlocking the bootloader. So far users on XDA have confirmed that the Bravia engine, advanced camera algorithms, and S-Force surround sound are not working. There are also reports that Miracast, Mirrorlink and Sony Entertainment Media (Music Unlimited, Videos Unlimited, etc.) are not working but are yet to be confirmed not working.
Sony have since added to their bootloader unlock page the following statement:
Certain pre-loaded content on your device may also be inaccessible due to the removal of DRM security keys. For high-end devices running recent software versions, for instance Xperia Z3, the removal of DRM security keys may affect advanced camera functionality.
For example, noise reduction algorithms might be removed, and performance when taking photos in low-light conditions might be affected. The secure user data partition may also become inaccessible, and you will not be able to get any more official software upgrades if you unlock the boot loader.
Word around XDA is that Sony’s lawyers were not happy with developers porting the Bravia or X-reality engine to other Android smartphones and as such were concerned that these developers would also port their noise reduction and other advanced camera algorithms to non-Sony devices. In some small, tiny part of my mind I can see Sony’s lawyers’ point about someone distributing their software without proper authorisation, software they worked hard to build that they hope will help distinguish them from other Android manufacturers. The problem here is that even without unlocking the bootloader on a device a clever user/developer can dump any private algorithms or proprietary blobs they want. This “solution” does NOT in fact solve the issue they are having. It is hopefully just lawyers jumping the gun and hopefully in the end calmer heads will prevail.
So while this isn’t a solution to Sony’s problem there may be one down the track. There are ways if they want to lock away their blobs, and although none of them are very friendly to the developer community they at least leave the phone with all its functions after unlocking the bootloader.
This only affects a very small percentage of Sony’s overall user-base so we are not sure whether they will change their policy on this at all. We commend Sony on their past openness with the Android developer community and implore them, to work together to find a solution to this problem so that all parties end up with a satisfactory solution. Remember, one instance does not a pattern make so will not jump all over Sony for this just yet. Sony are still developer friendly in many circumstance so hopefully that can carry over here.
I was considering purchasing a Sony Z3 Compact for my wife but this manoeuvre by them has made me reconsider that due to needing root access for certain functions I want to run on her device (Gear fit integration being one). Is it something that deters you? Do you see it as an issue at all? Will it affect you?