How to drive Mediatek closer to custom ROM developers

How to drive Mediatek closer to custom ROM developers


The question put up by Andi, whether Mediatek should embrace GPL (or at least offer more tools to custom ROM devs) can, in my opinion, be easily answered with “Yes”. If you buy a device, its always great to have the opportunity to fiddle around with it and change things. Theres already a lot possible, once you acquire root rights on your Android system, but if the hardware base is open too, the possibilities are even bigger.

I will try to explain the requirements, that need be fulfilled, to have Mediatek move in such a direction. My points, of course, are up to discussion and I appreciate every input you wish to share yourself.

rockchips vs mediatek

1) Mediatek needs more local competition from other chipmakers. As far as Ive read, Rockchip might be planning to introduce a smartphone SoC of their own. This would be a great move and would help to…

2) …drive Mediatek to some openness, which they really need. Some more popular and better known phones do attract notable support by custom ROM devs, even though their possibilities are limited by the closed source politics of MTK. For example: There were dozens of custom ROMs for the Jiayu G3 based on the official Android 4.0 and 4.1 firmware releases. If they had had the tools, Im sure the custom ROM devs would have brought Android 4.2 to the device instead of tinkering around with the official 4.1 beta firmware..

3) Still, a big part of the responsibilities to get Mediatek GPL-ing lies on the manufacturers. They need to put pressure on Mediatek. But I fear, that many of them might actually be afraid of a GPL move by Mediatek, because they might think, that people are going to buy less phones, when older models keep getting firmware updates by custom ROM devs.

Im pretty sure that is not the case, because after all, new hardware is new hardware and only a tiny minority actually fiddles around with their phone’s firmware and knows about custom ROMs.


Mediatek needs local rivals which can compete in terms of price-performance value. Keep in mind that the big majority of the customers who buy phones from Mediatek’s clients are Chinese or come from other countries, where the average income is far below western standards. They buy MTK-phones, because they offer them reasonable mid-range-performance and good features for a price they can afford.

This is the competition where Mediatek needs serious rivalry, if you want them to move closer to custom ROM developers.

This is a guest post by Georg Pichler from

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  • Very well done. I am all for openness in software.

    • So7t


  • Konged

    From mediatek’s perspective is their reason for not releasing the full commercial because if they did are they scared their soc will be quite easily copied by another manufacturer in China who will then undercut them with similar performance. Their hardware may be more off the shelve arm licenses designs whereas Qualcomm got some hardware tricks up their sleeves thus not so scared about releasing the source. Can some expert give some opinion on my view ?

    • Rockchip, Allwinner etc. have designs of their own, though they are all quite similar to MTKs. The most important part is the ARM cpu core design that is not of Mediatek’s making. Not much to worry there, I believe.

    • Marius

      With a SOC for smartphone the hardware is the most important part. Just look at how many Chinese companies make SOCs for tablets vs how few make SOCs for smartphones. It’s not a software problem, the software is Linux and Android which companies like Allwinner and Rockchip can handle without a problem.
      It’s not so much Mediatek that’s afraid of open source, it’s all the phone manufacturers that think their competitors will put the software on their phones.
      Jiayu for instance is afraid that Umi will use the Jiayu G4 software for their phone or something like that. This is of course not quite true since while they can steal a few tricks most of the code modifications, at least the ones to the kernel, are HW specific.
      Of course this still doesn’t explain while they won’t release the source for the Jiayu G3 for instance which is old enough that they shouldn’t care.
      There’s a very big fear about releasing the source code in China and I’m not really sure why that is.
      Western companies had the same fear about doing this at first but they saw it won’t hurt them and might even help them. I remember router companies that had to even be sued to release the kernel code for their Linux router. But then Linksys had a huge success with their Linux router and custom firmwares and other companies saw that it’s an advantage.
      I think a small Chinese company could release the kernel source and if it also has a good product it could have a big success. This could convince others that it’s the way to do things.

      • CPO

        I think the Chinese companies are more cautious than the American ones. I would like to see at least one of them willing to take a few more risks, so they can all see that it can pay off big time. Probably the worst thing you can do is become complacent.

        Once you have a good phone under your belt, that is the perfect time to take some risks on something riskier and innovative, but it needs to be a smart risk. Even if you failed on the new phone, you could update the hardware on the older model and go back to selling that for a while, just so you can keep cash coming in.

        And baby steps is how it starts too. Nobody is asking them to scramble to produce gimmicks. But there are some small steps they can take that will help their future and their bottom line now.

        Probably the worst thing you can do in this industry is to become complacent. You’d be better off going all out and failing a couple times, because at least you learn and become leaner and meaner. If you take the complacency route, by the time you know somethings wrong, its already too late.

    • anony

      That’s not how it works. Anyone can license ARM design.

  • jasneskis

    I like open. New fresh ideas are introduced that way. It also helps keep companies on their toes.

  • CPO

    Great points. It is in Mediatec’s and most of the other phone makers who still use Mediatec hardware to have it running as close as possible to its full potential. It seems like letting the developers mess around with it is a cheap way to outsource software development. There is probably a lot that can be learned from the devs and possibly they could be brought into the company as major assets with a software product thats already tested on their devices.

    I have only a limited basic understanding of this issue, I’m still learning. One thing I noticed when googling different Chinese phone models, the xda forums would have some threads on em going. The thing is that they never really lead to anything because ppl on there bring up the closed code thing and they won’t touch it if they won’t release those kernels. That kills the thread on there every time.

    Bottom line is that its in Mediatec’s interest that their hardware is rightfully living up to it’s potential because I’m sure they don’t want the end line customers saying screw it “I’m just getting a snapdragon/tegra 4 phone”

  • Nuno Santos

    Why not release the source code of MTK6589 that comes with Jiayu G4 and other like it, pretty stupid move.

    I only buy smartphones which have the ability to have a kernel/ROM built for it by me.

  • CPO

    I can put this another way too. Not too sure what they are figuring as far as the risks for releasing the code, but here is one huge reward that they already missed out on. Maybe the reputation of Mediatec for having GPS not working on their hardware could have been saved a bit more if the devs were more able to work out a fix.

    Someone has to generate the initial stimulus to get the ball rolling on anything. The more heads working on a problem the better. Especially when it doesn’t cost the phone companies one penny out of pocket to release that code.

    Maybe its that all the device makers are too proud to admit that their product isn’t 100% the best it can be right out the box every time. And they don’t have the budget to put out updates every week like Xiaomi.

    I think the other Chinese phone companies may be underestimating the community of fans out here that will work on this stuff for free. Maybe I’m speaking from a position of ignorance on this, but could they just put stock Android on the phones and let the devs community work out any kinks in it on this end? Then maybe later they can ship the phones with the developer optimized roms?

    Even if they don’t ever ship the phones with anything but stock Android, rooting/software flashing shops will just pop up here. It’s not a big deal, they will pay $10 or so to have their phones worked on.

    But it’s never gonna get to that point if the devs never even get what they need to get going on it.

  • Konged

    Thanks for everyone’s thoughtful response. From the info I think from a mtk based phone manufacturer’ s perspective right now there’s really little to loose but may be huge fan base gain for releasing the source.

    • I wonder if Oppo could actually get some movement into this. They have released a MTK-based device (the R-something, I cant remember that name) and are known for their openness to developers – at least with the Find 5. Lets see how they will handle their entry level device in that regards.

  • Konged

    Btw are Huawei as bad with their k2 v kernel source?

  • chavv

    Actually, there is a beta 4.2 ROM for Jiayu G3 (the 6577 one). Its based on 4.2 for Amoi phone 😉

  • Marius

    I really hope they release the kernel source, there are so many beautysull devices with mediatek chips. We need CyanogenMod!!!