Here at XDA, we take the responsibility of carriers and OEMs to provide timely updates to their devices (and to honor their GPL requirements) seriously. There are those who do a good job (Samsung is one of them), those who don’t always do a good job (HTC, Motorola, LG), and those who do a terrible job (Huawei, ZTE, Rockchip to name a few). But there is one who right now is doing a terrific job, and that is Sony Mobile.
Back at the end of 2012, we selected Sony Mobile as our OEM of the Year for many reasons. One of those had to do with their public support of the developer community. Another was the release of beta OS builds for impending updates, shared on XDA by Sony staff in order to seed the ROM development pipeline. In addition, they were very active in supporting AOSP for the Sony Xperia S in the Google AOSP device tree, released the AOSP binaries, and eventually branched out to open their own Github for future AOSP development.
On Friday, Sony continued their string of community contributions by releasing an ALPHA build of Jelly Bean (Android 4.1.2) for the Sony Xperia T. This build is most definitely an alpha, meaning that many of the core components do not work, so it is not meant to be flashed or even mucked around with by the end user. It is meant solely for custom ROM developers to take and use and help make it better in preparation for Sony’s upcoming official build of Jelly Bean for the Xperia T. In order to flash this you will need to use their EMMA tool and your device must have its bootloader unlocked, or else the device will boot to a black screen and you will need to return to stock via Sony’s Update Tool. More information can be found at their Developer World blog. Again, this is not for the end user.
Sony evidently wasn’t content just to be the only OEM to provide OFFICIAL alpha builds for their devices. They ALSO released the kernel source for the alpha build. No other company in our memory has ever done this. Sure, one could argue that it is their obligation to release the kernel source under GPL requirements because they distributed the alpha build. But let’s keep in mind that we’re talking about an ALPHA build—something that is essentially in the infant-stages of its evolution, and not a production build or a finished product.
Let’s also keep in mind that instead of letting it leak like other manufacturers do, and thus not need to adhere to the GPL because they can claim ignorance and that they themselves aren’t the one distributing, they are embracing the fact that the GPL is not harmful. They are stating their case that this is how OEMs should work with the community. They are saying that this sort of thing encourages trust and a sense of togetherness between the community and the OEM, which in turn trickles down to the consumer’s good will towards the OEM. It’s a veritable marketplace “circle of life.” (You’re welcome for having planted the Lion King firmly in your subconscious for the next few hours.)
Other OEMs, like Samsung, frequently release incomplete kernel source that will not build (GPL violation); or fail to release the kernel source for a production build that they later retract even though it was distributed and is live in the wild on consumer’s devices (GPL violation). Or in the case of HTC, just plain ignore the GPL and wait for petitions to be filed or lawyers to be engaged before releasing the kernel source for a software version that is now out of date (GPL violation).
Let this be a lesson to the OEMs out there: When you choose to embrace the very ecosystem that has driven your profits high, and endeavor to work with that ecosystem in a mutual give-and-take, you will see positive results and karma that far exceeds your expectations. Or you can choose to neglect the very base that at one time made you the top smartphone manufacturer in the world and ultimately see your profits and market share slide into the abyss where there is little to no hope of return. Your choice. Choose wisely.