Should Mediatek honor GPL or shall Chinese phone makers use rival processors?

Should Mediatek honor GPL or shall Chinese phone makers use rival processors?


Chinese phone makers are finally looking to offer their phones to the international community, but with very little developer support available for MTK phones should we push Mediatek to honor GPL, or push manufacturers to rival processors.

Mediatek are without doubt the original reason Chinese phone companies are able to offer such great performing Android smartphones at pocket friendly prices! A quick search through online stores or Chinese phone media coverage brings up great devices ranging from very affordable quad-core phones, to devices which offer the best of the best (1080 display, 2GB RAM, 13 mega-pixel cameras NFC).

Whichever end of the Chinese Mediatek phone spectrum you look at you can be sure of 2 things 1) Great pricing and 2) Zero developer support for custom ROM makers! But we can’t place the blame fully on the phone makers as it is actually Mediatek’s lack of support which is preventing great third-party ROMs from being made for MTK phones!

Cyanogenmod chinese phones

Although Mediatek hope to become a world leader in smartphone SoC development and production, they aren’t especially fond of supporting developers like rivals Qualcomm do. This is why we are seeing such great developer support for phones like the Find 5, and this is why Oppo will announce that they are a hardware partner for Cyanogenmod this Monday!

Lack of support isn’t the only issue!

The lack of willingness to be open source is only part of the issue though! Anyone who has ever had a crack at building a custom ROM for a Mediatek powered device will know all about Mediatek’s own build method which many complain isn’t as convenient or easy to work with when compared to rivals.

qualcomm vs mediatek

Even if Mediatek opened the gates tomorrow and supplied everything developers need to build excellent ROM’s like Paranoid Android, AOKP or CyanogenMod would there be enough interest from developers? Are they willing to spend time learning Mediatek’s methods?

So what should Chinese phone makers do?

Chinese phone city gizchina

I spoke with a number of Chinese phone makers last week and most of them understand the value of a great developer community, but they either feel their hands are tied, aren’t willing to make tough decisions (this is especially the case with some of the larger ‘traditional’ brands’), or worry that the cost increase in switching to an alternate SoC might loose them customers!

[poll id=”5″]

As fans of Chinese phones what do you think is more important? Take part in the Poll above, and let your feelings be known in the comments section below!

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  • alsijdo

    How much would the costs increases if they would use qualcommm SoC?

    • nosense

      Qualcomm has a quadcore cortex A7 solution… But at double the price of Mediatek’s

      Do you think phonemakers are gonna risk losing marketplace by switching providers?

      Mediatek also risks losing money if allowing people tweak their secret kernels, as none of their customers would buy the “Turbo” version when anyone could over clock the processors up…

      Well, they do that and add an artificial 15% increase of price too.

      Mediatek should stop this (fraud) now, open the flood gates and give the fcking sources to the GPL on Monday as too late. I know a certain chip maker called Rockchip that has all what it takes to blow them out of the map…even on the pricing war. But instead they stay just on the tablets/dongles market…

      • RobertNL

        I am not sure if its all that artificial; the difference in price is higher then the change but there is probably some difference between the chipsets in terms of how well they preform (hardware maximum; not kernel maximum).

        I know that Qualcomm does do this; they have different versions of the S4, 600 and 800 chipsets that all can have a different clockspeed/voltage due to (in)perfections of the chips. The batches that can handle higher speeds are more expensive then the chips that can handle lower speeds. As far as i read on this Qualcomm uses about 6 of these ”steps” where 6 can be overklocked a lot and 1 is often used in devices with a lower base clockspeed.

        Maybe; and i am just holding on to air now MTK solves this the same way:
        Chips that are perfect –> MTK6589T
        Chips that have ”problems”* with CPU on 1.5 –> MTK6589
        Chips that have imperfect GPU –> MTK6589M

        *Problems is not the right word; can not run it as efficiently as the MTK6589T.

        This way you can use more of your yields and offer lower prices to the people/companies who want so ;).

  • It would be great that Mediatek would fix it’s GPS performances

    • devast

      This is a very big misconception, that gps is bad in mtk products. Actually, the manufacturers implementation is bad, they are either using cheaper components, or skipping some parts of the design.
      I have a huawei g700, with mt6589, and i can tell you, the gps is perfect, without any mods, hacks, whatsoever. I just turn it on, and it works like my qualcomm based phones. It’s very accurate, even while driving, using google maps, or any software.
      On topic: For mediatek open sourcing is the only way to go. If they start shipping mtk based phones in the west without source code, they (manufacturers) will face lawsuit sooner or later.

      • There are already MTK-based phones sold in the West from western manufacturers – for example Archos (France) has released a new line of phones based on MTK-Chips.

        • devast

          I know about these phones sold here. But actually these companies are way too small, to get peoples recognition. Also most mtk based phones sold here are actually not manufactured by these companies, they just import chinese oem phones and brand them (and duplicate the price…).
          I think the real show will start, when lenovo enters the eu market with its phones. Thats when things might start to change.

          • The Sony Xperia C also runs on the MT6589. It would be interesting to see Sony’s reaction on this.

        • Remco

          Acer has a dual sim, mt6589 based phone launched in europe as well.

  • meyakanor

    Both. MediaTek should try their best to honor GPL AND more and more phone makers should start using their rival SoC’s as well. In fact, good Chinese phones are mostly Qualcomm Snapdragon-based, and I would argue that these phones are already not too expensive (with the exception of Oppo).

    I would also suggest what’s likely to be a better solution than any of the above: local (as in, mainland; MediaTek is Taiwanese) SoC makers (Rockchip, HiSilicon, etc) should start stepping up their games and start producing high-quality high-performing chipsets (and should still honor GPL too obviously).

  • anony

    Why not? I mean what’s there to lose for Mediatek by honoring GPL?

    IMHO they should reevaluate their PR for this kind of issue.

  • KaBoom

    I think they should give everything people need!
    I really like odroid’s products and they can only use samsung because the other vendors aren’t open enough! Damn if I could only have my hands on that eight-core from them!!!

  • wurstt

    The availability of custom ROMS is a very important buying decission argument for me. For instance I probably wont buy again any Samsung device before they don’t release necessary information to developpers. But Samsung is kind of a different matter, since it’s market share is that big, there are far more high skilled devs who try to build something from the source and the firmwares Samsung provide by its own are usually fine to use.

    Mediatek could save a lot of money in developping SDK if they would release their informations. But even updates for Mediatek devices seems to be very rare. The last official firmware for my iOcean X7 is from the beginning of july. This was my first chinese phone and my first mediatek device. To be honest, overall I’m satisfied but I think the mt6589t has more potential. There are still sometimes lags and I like to manage voltage, governors and clockspeed on my own.
    My icoean was a test and I think I will buy again a chinese phone next year, but with snapdragon or tegra…or maybe Allwinner and Rockchip will join the mobile 3G SoC competition!
    To see how Oppo treats devs and how many ROMs have been already released makes me think of trying oppo next year. So yeah, Phone makers, you can make pressure and use other SoCs (they cost around 20 to 40 Dollar) and I am willing to pay some more bucks for an snapdragon or Tegra device.

    Or mediatek, you don’t let things develop like that and act like a multinational micropocessor player. Don’t see Developpers as your enemy but as a help. Cause if you want to grow bigger you have no other choice.

  • Aeonia

    Honor GPL…..We, MediaTek customers, have suffered long enough…We need a healthy development community especially with the 8 cores just around the corner. Imagine what we can accomplish with open source…their new 8 core chipset would be an instant hit..and with so many opportunities it would literary change the modding community..that said, i still want them to release for the mtk6589..if they want a chance at the international pie

  • Alan

    actually you can see a verry clear trend of chinese premium phone manufacutrers to use other chips than mediatek. Jiayu uses qualcom, other use nvidia, there will be more competition on the premium phone market when chinese companies come up with evenly good designs and quality and start selling 10 – 100 fold of their phones internationally and steal lots of market-share from the big ones.
    Maybe mediatec wants to be in the 3rd or 4th place, but i highly doubt it.


    Other chip makers indirectly charging cost for GPL that’s why their chip is costly. We can’t put sole blame on mediatek.

    • anony

      Indirectly how?

      • Of course, documentation and stuff needs financing as well. But yeah, I think Mediatek are at a point where they can and should afford the same. If they do, I (as well as mnay others) see the company grow into a real deal, with HTC and Sony opting for Mediatek chips.

        • anony

          What “stuff”? They should have good documentation internally anyway, maybe editing few stuffs but it’s not like they’ll have to spends million of dollar for that.

          • Of course. Not taking their side, but being cost-effective is Mediatek’s Modus Operandi. It is possible that the company doesn’t have enough English speaking staff, and possible enough knowledge of the GPL. Even OPPO didn’t know they had to keep updating their source code with each release; you can expect Mediatek to be worse. Check this
            However, if Mediatek want to stay in the game for long enough, they need to take the GPL seriously. Now is the time.

            • nosense


              Mediatek has offices in the US and I guess even their window cleaners speak English fluently.

              They are not a little chipmaker… I guess they are the 3rd world chip maker by volume behind Samsung and Qualcomm.

              That’s why they make that much money selling at so lower prices…


  • Marius

    I’m not sure it’s only Mediatek’s fault here. The Mediatek kernel at least has been released by several big companies so it is available. TCL for instance releases the kernel under the GPL as they should.
    On the other hand there are plenty Chinese companies using Qualcomm SOCs, like Faea or K-Touch who use the cheaper MSM8225Q and they’re not releasing the kernel sources. Here you can’t really blaim Qualcomm for not allowing it.
    I think there is a certain mentality here that needs to change with Chinese companies. The code is not yours and open sourcing it will not help the competition, it will help the community which will help you. The competition is highly unlikely to be able to use your custom modifications to the kernel anyway.
    They can just look at Samsung who open sources everything, is not afraid to do it and still makes loads of money.
    I’m very frustrated that I can’t find a cheap open source phone. Yes Oppo is good but it’s way too expensive.

    • CPO

      The Chinese phone companies are way too conservative. They are gonna have to step it up and get creative if they wanna play with the big boys over here. This business aint no joke. Its ruthless right now. The dynamics of the market are very complex and fluid. One too many missteps or complacency in blackberrys case, and youre done.

      Blackberry was the #1 phone brand back when Obama got in office. That wasnt long ago. Now they arent even worthy enough to lick the dirt off samsungs boot.

      • Ben TEN TEN

        China phone makers are fine just the way they are, because sources say, they won’t have to worry about “playing with the big boys”, because the ball is in their backyard, and it the world who are tripping over themselves just for the opportunity to come, and play with them. Consumers are turning to cheap China phones at a faster rate than those who are in the market for the “big boys” high end, over priced offerings. All China’s got to do is keep waiting it out. My nephew just sold, yesterday, 2 China 1.1 copies of the iPhone 5S for $500 each, and the person who bought them was as happy a camper as those who’s buying them now for 7 to $800 dollars. If he had a dozen, they’d all be gone by the end of the week.

  • Peter

    imo qualcomm makes terrible low cost SoC’s
    so pls NO qualcomm!

    btw, imo mtk6589t is fast.
    I just got my Star s5 with that SoC,
    and strangely it is faster (or in the same league at least) than my GS3 despite the A7 vs A9 architecture…
    PLUS it has DOUBLE the battery life.
    i get 4-5 hours screen on time with Star s5 against 2-3 hours with GS3!

    • Marius

      Yes, you have point here. The low cost Qualcomm SOCs are not that good and they really should get their act together and launch something much better. In a way it’s a pity that they don’t do more to compete with Mediatek. They and others… I’m looking forward to the new Intel SOCs, maybe those will gain more traction with Chinese companies.
      The A7 is a very efficient CPU plus when you take into account it’s build on 28nm tech you get the explanation for the good battery life.

      • nosense

        Qualcomm has the Snapdragon 200 competing the Mtk6589 and the 400 competing the Turbo version.

        And both the 200 and 400 lack support for FHD displays…unlike both versions of Mediatek.

        They are the laugh of the low cost market where Mediatek has no real competition currently.

    • 4-5 hours seems quite good. Agreed.

  • j

    The chinese phones are very glossy.

  • Manish

    It is all about timing. When to go the GPL way. Today Mediatek is market leader. Not only Chinese manufacturers but now big brands like Sony etc have adopted MTK. Suppose going the GPL way 3 years back suppose might have costed them 5~10%, but today it might cost them 2~3%, as their acceptability and sales is all time high. Almost all Chinese brands have plans to go global, if MTK don’t support then they will go with some other chips, which can change the market dynamics.

    Nothing is constant in this World. If they don’t do now, then when will they get more better conditions.

    • lexboi

      MediaTek should change its business model and support GPL. This is what can keep it in the market for a very long time if it does. Otherwise, I tell you, Qualcomm isn’t smiling right about now.

  • k86

    Maybe MTK doesn’t want other rival companies to get its secrets to keep their advantages and methods to keep low prices. People should stop thinking as customers and sometimes try to think from another perspective.

    • h4rr4r

      Then maybe they should not be using the Linux kernel.
      They are violating the GPL. Forget being a customer or being a producer, they are violating the license.

  • zaffar68

    if google can be open sourced, why dont mediatek?

  • Mika

    For me it’s simple: If a device has a Mediatek chip in it, I WILL avoid it. No matter how cheap it is.