MediaTek won’t release its source code, but why?

MediaTek won't release its source code, but why? 1
MediaTek Headquarters

MediaTek whose chipsets are often used in low and mid range android phones is often frowned upon by the developer community due to its closed nature and slow updates. However, in recent times MediaTek has been trying to mend some bridges by starting solutions like GMS Express which promises to fast-track device development and certification cycles for mobile manufacturers who use MediaTek chipsets.

GMS Express will supposedly reduce the certification cycles from three months to only a week allowing faster patches, security updates and latest firmware.

While GMS Express is being welcomed by the OEMs it doesn’t help developers who want to build custom ROM or applications.

TL Lee, GM for MediaTek mobile business has told AndroidAuthority that there is no plan to release the source code for public anytime soon.

But isn’t Android Open Source?

MediaTek won't release its source code, but why? 2

Well, Android Open Source Project (AOSP) is open source. And anybody and fork (in other words, create their own version of) AOSP to suit their needs. The chipset manufacturers will typically modify the kernel to ensure AOSP is working on their chipsets.

Now as per AOSP licensing terms,  any chipset manufacturer or OEM has to provide the modifications made to the AOSP source code including the kernel. However, they are not bound to release anything additional that they might have added on top.

E.g. if the OEM has changes the source code for file handling and the way files are copy pasted they will have to provide it if asked for, but if they have added a new UI on top they are not bound to reveal the source code for them.

The chipset manufacturer will supply the forked source code to the OEMs so they can run in on their devices with modification if necessary, but neither the chipset nor OEM is liable to release it to general public.

Closed source increases security risk

MediaTek won't release its source code, but why? 3

While most of the consumers who opt for MediaTek devices are primarily concerned with affordability in lieu of functionality and usually the chipset is not the foremast factor. But for Android enthusiasts who want to tinker their phones, with custom ROM and other apps, MediaTek has never been an option. This is because while Snapdragon releases their kernel source code but MediaTek does not.

This has led to abundance on community developed ROMs and application that run on Snapdragon based phones and almost non-existent level of community engagement in MediaTek based phones.

And of course once the OEM stops supporting the phone and providing updates, it’s the developer community that continues building newer custom ROMs that includes the patches and security updates.

Not only that, the enthusiastic developer community will keep building adapting a newer version of Android for these out of support phones. Take the example of OnePlus One which last received an official update back in 2016 but the developer community has adapted the latest Android through the LineageOS project up until now.

Why doesn’t MediaTek follow Snapdragon’s lead?

MediaTek won't release its source code, but why? 4
Snapdragon processors

Snapdragon is loved by the developer community for the fact that they will typically release not only the kernel source code on CodeAurora Forums (CAF).

MediaTek has consistently tried to speed up the patching and update cycles, including a recent “structuring” of their workforce to focus on updates apart from the fore mentioned GMS Express Services. But they have shied away from releasing their source code even if it means millions of handsets are left exposed once they reach end-of-life to new security threats.

When asked by AndroidAuthority, their official response was:
“We are considering this, but so far we think our priority is still to provide our customer with a better service (sic). And I can share with you that we do release our source code to our partners.”

Why won’t they release it?

It’s anybody’s guess, perhaps it’s because they don’t think MediaTek phones last long enough that it will reach it’s end-of-life or perhaps it’s because like Huawei they’re building in spying mechanism which will come out if they did.

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