Motorola's Droid X is Popular Smartphone, Just Don't Mess With It

All the fuss around the iPhone hasn't totally sucked the air out of the room for other smartphone. There are other phones out there that are selling well, too. Motorola already had a hit with its Droid phone last year, and now the Droid's big brother, the Droid X, is following in its footsteps.

However, like Apple, Motorola (NYSE: MOT) is contending with a headache in the mobile phone blogosphere. There have been reports that the Droid X's bootloader will brick the phone -- render it useless -- if it finds any software other than the approved software from Motorola and Verizon, the Droid X's exclusive partner.

The launch is being dogged by rumors among Android and mobile phone blogs of a self-destruct chip called an eFuse, which operates similar to a circuit breaker. In a typical circuit breaker, a device is shut down in case of a hardware failure or heat. But in the Droid X, the eFuse will supposedly brick the phone if it finds unsupported software on the phone.

Smartphone customers, like PC customers, generally use what the vendor gives them, but there is a small community of hobbyists who are like modern day chopper builders. They like to fiddle with their phone and put different software on it. In this case, it might be Android 2.2, a.k.a. Froyo, which is only available for the Google Nexus One phone.

Motorola, however, denied that the eFuse chip turns a $569 phone into a paperweight.

"The technology is not loaded with the purpose of preventing a consumer device from functioning, but rather ensuring for the user that the device only runs on updated and tested versions of software. If a device attempts to boot with unapproved software, it will go into recovery mode, and can re-boot once approved software is re-installed," a spokesperson for Motorola said in a statement sent to InternetNews.com.

(The bricking issue has come up where a user has wiped the Droid X's built-in software clean to install something like a new OS; it has nothing to do with downloading applications from Google's Android Marketplace, which now boasts over 70,000 applications).

Analyst Jack Gold, president of mobile market research firm J.Gold Associates, said he sees both sides of this issue. "On the one hand, Motorola is saying 'look, it's our phone, it's got our reputation, we're making sure you have a good user experience. If you jailbreak it, all bets are off.' Because if you jailbreak it, how can they support it? In that sense, I get it," he told InternetNews.com.

"On the other hand, Droid hackers want to be able to say 'I don't want this locked down.' But you can't have it both ways. You can't have Motorola say they will stick by you and then go in and do anything you want to it," Gold added.

Meanwhile, it's hard to say if the issue is dissuading any would be buyers. The Droid X hit Verizon stores and were sold online beginning Thursday, and it's already sold out. Verizon's online store lists the phone as unavailable until July 23.

Gold isn't surprise. "I'm not convinced they made a whole lot up front. They probably wanted to see how it would sell. Also they've been hyping this thing for months, and it's a pretty decent device. There are a lot of folks deciding to get that one instead of an iPhone. Verizon has a better network and the hardware looks as good," he said.


Andy Patrizio is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.