How I got Android 2.2 by de-branding my phone

Darien Graham-Smith
3 Sep 2010

I’ve lost patience with O2. I’ve been waiting like a good boy for two and a half months for it to pass on the Android 2.2 update to O2-branded HTC Desire handsets (such as mine). Now I’ve had enough of waiting, and I’ve taken matters into my own hands.

What’s frustrated me isn’t the wait as such – obviously I’d rather get the upgrade sooner rather than later, but I’m old and jaded enough to take these things philosophically. And yes, I understand that O2 needs to test the update fully before it can roll it out to customers and take responsibility for supporting it.

But it does seem to be taking an unaccountably long time, especially when you note that (as reader Alan Robertson pointed out in a recent email) Android 2.2 has been running on unbranded handsets without issue since the day of release.

And in the meantime, those of us with branded phones are barred from trying it out independently: though the software is freely available, my phone is restricted to installing only O2-approved firmware, as and when the company sees fit to make it available. Hmm, why did I ditch the iPhone again?

De-branding the phone

Happily, there’s a solution. Cast around the internet and you’ll find plenty of resources telling you how to flash your Android phone with generic firmware, which removes all customisations made by O2 — or by Vodafone, Rogers, Bharti Airtel or whoever your provider may be. Once it’s done you can install OS upgrades as soon as Google releases them, without having to wait for your provider to perform its own testing (and slap on its own branding). And this morning, having decided to wait no longer for an official O2 upgrade, I performed the procedure on my phone.

There’s a certain amount of hackery involved in the process, and once you start off down that road you’re on your own.

It’s worth noting that there’s a certain amount of hackery involved in the process, and once you start off down that road you’re on your own. Good luck getting support if you run into difficulties while trying to install an unsupported OS. And even if the installation goes perfectly, you may hit problems down the line if, for any reason, you need to send your phone back for repairs: de-branding your phone shouldn’t affect its operation in any significant way, but companies like to find excuses to void warranties.

But to me that’s the joy of technology. It’s taking ownership of your device, and making it work for you in ways that weren’t previously possible, even if — no, especially if that means creatively sidestepping technical and practical obstructions. Once I’d got the generic firmware onto my phone, it immediately picked up the Android 2.2 update, and though I’d done nothing cleverer than finding and following some instructions, it felt like both an achievement and a reward.

Getting away with it

And the thing about Android is that, so far as the OS and network are concerned, my device is still a perfectly regular handset, just like you might buy SIM-free from an online retailer. Unlike users of a certain other phone, I’ve no need to fear that future updates will seek to punish my audacity in tweaking my own phone, by deliberately breaking it or disabling features.

For me, though, that’s not the best part. That came a few hours ago, just as I was preparing to flash my phone with the generic firmware. I’d used the USB debug tools to get the CID from my phone, generated a custom boot sector and was just about to dump it onto my microSD card to create a key device for firmware updates when I realised that – at that precise moment in time – I had never been happier to be an Android user.

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