Inside the community

an introduction

community youtube modding culture dissemination

The playground

context and background

market strategy consumerism ownership ecosystems open source benchmark Google Apps OEMs

The modding movement

concepts, practice, dissemination

hackers right to repair custom ROMs mod root permission CyanogenMod tutorials forums

Then outside the community

a reflection

phone market lecture workshop tutorial collaboration design community sharing


glossary and bibliography

technical terms references forum threads articles



What values has this movement given rise to besides technical support?

It was 2011 when I got my first smartphone. A Samsung Galaxy S: the first model of a successful series of smartphones, still among the most popular today. I remember the fascination that a 14-year-old guy who was passionate about technology could have in front of that object. It felt like a miniature computer with unlimited potential. In less than a year I was hooked on the Android world, trying to figure out how to make the most of such a tool. After some months since I bought the phone, Google released a new version of Android: 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Needless to say, I couldn't wait to get the update from the company so I could try all the new features and graphical innovations. I soon discovered that my phone was a variant of the more famous flagship model, called Samsung Galaxy S SCL. This device differed by a few components from its main model, such as type of screen, GPU, and memory. However, this was enough to make it not compatible with the updates that the flagship model received. Digging into Android tech-enthusiast forums I discovered that some independent developers created unofficial updates of Android for my phone: that was my first contact with modding communities. From that time I started to mod my device by downloading and installing (or flashing to use a tech slang term) unofficial firmwares, skins and mods, together with a friend of mine with the same phone model as me. The period between 2010 and 2018 was really prolific for developers and users: the influence this community has on the smartphone market it’s tangible.

The Samsung Galaxy S (i9000) The Samsung Galaxy S SCL (i9003)
The Samsung Galaxy S (i9000), released in June 2010 (left/top).
The Samsung Galaxy S SCL (i9003), my model, released in February 2011 (right/bottom).

Parallel to that path, as an enthusiast, I felt the need to communicate the existence of this underworld, mostly the prerogative of Android nerds. I wanted to enter this community as an active member. So, after some experiments made the year before, in July 2013 my friend Davide and I opened a YouTube channel dedicated to Android modding. The goal was to raise awareness of the culture of modding in Italy, where at the time it was still not widespread. From 2012 to 2016 we made informative videos about the smartphone market, next to reviews and tutorials about modding. We got in touch with different developers, met and supported small independent projects that were trying to come up with an open and user-oriented idea of technology. One aspect that I became aware of only later is the political power of this community: modding is not just about solving technical issues but is a collective effort to elaborate an idea of technology that they intend to apply to society. Users and enthusiasts come together spontaneously to react to market trends that they see as not in line with their own thinking. The subversion of production systems into collective bottom-up logic makes modding a practice of activism. This opens up discussions about the role of the user within the phone market. If we frame these debates as a public discussion, what are the user's rights?

Screenshot from my YouTube videos Screenshot from my YouTube videos
Some videos from my YouTube channel between 2014 and 2016.

This paper stems from the need to frame Android modding within a broader movement of hacking practices and technological activism. Since there are not any books or bibliographic resources specifically about Android modding the information I retrieved is taken mainly from forum threads, YouTube videos and articles in tech magazines. The reconstruction of the birth and development of this community is mediated by what has been my approach and experience as a user and disseminator. I, therefore, invite people to see this text as an attempt at a partial reconstruction of a complex movement that includes tens of thousands of developers and as many threads on forums and videos.

My first video about Android custom ROMs
My first video about Android custom ROMs: a comparison between CyanogenMod running on two devices. Uploaded on April 11th 2013.



How has Android modding affected the smartphone market?

1.1/Computational luxury According to the Cambridge dictionary, luxury is “something expensive that is pleasant to have but is not necessary”.  1  Luxury is a driving force because for many people it represents one of the keys to positioning themselves in a higher social class. In many areas, luxury manifests itself as experiential luxury, related to the design of goods. In technology, luxury can be seen as an overabundance of computing power and is conveyed through data and lists of specs. In this chapter, I intend to explore the concept of computational luxury understood as a feature that marked the early development of the smartphone market. In the decade 2007-2017, we witnessed a technological boost that conditioned the social, environmental and technological impact of this sector. The phone market was driven by a surplus of computing power that monopolized it. Communication has also been shaped around selling data, numbers, and the technical features of devices, fueling consumerist logic. But in order to grasp this logic, we must understand the cultural shift in the software and hardware we operate - from advanced office stationery in the 90s to a personal accessory of the second half of the 2000s. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, mobile devices were seen as business tools, which aimed to digitize some office functions (agenda, mail, calendar). PDAs (personal digital assistants) were an attempt to miniaturize computers, becoming the first mobile products to include personal information managing tools. The concept of these products is similar to the early computer user interfaces, which took full force from the imagery of the office to create a digital simile. The metaphor of the desk with files, folders, and recycle bin is carried over into the mobile world. It takes a business-oriented direction, becoming a status symbol among American managers.

  1   LUXURY | definition in the Cambridge English dictionary. (2023).[link]

Blackberry 7520 (2004) used by a businessman
Blackberry 7520 (2004) used by a businessman.

On January 9, 2007, the first step of a big revolution happened: Steve Jobs presented the first iPhone at the MacWorld conference in San Francisco. With this announcement Apple changed the paradigm of these devices forever. Already previously with products such as Nokia 9210 Communicator (2001) or the world of Pocket PCs there was an attempt to expand this market in this direction. However, it’s only after Apple's conference that smartphones are consolidated in our daily lives. These objects from substitutes for physical office objects (calculator, notebook, landline phone) have become our photo and music archives as well as leisure and entertainment devices. The way smartphones are sold also changed: we moved from a business-oriented type of communication to a more intimate and mundane one. Ties and desks disappeared from ads and we started to see parents, children, living rooms, kitchens and everyday situations. But how to stand out in this new technological environment where products become more than just the sum of their operations and where the immediate utility of technology is obscured?

Steve Jobs Introducing The iPhone At MacWorld
Steve Jobs Introducing The iPhone At MacWorld (2007).

Samsung Galaxy S3 commercial Samsung Galaxy S3 commercial
Samsung Galaxy S3 commercial (2012).

In the second decade of the 2000s, smartphone manufacturers spent their energies on miniaturizing smartphone components with the goal enhancing the performance. From then on, the computational luxury sets in. Each year the challenge is to be able to produce a device that outperforms both the competitors and their predecessors from the previous year. The advertising language is enriched with technical terminologies such as PPI, NIT for displays; mAh and Watt for battery life and charging speed; MegaPixel for cameras and GHz for processors. This approach has bent the market to the continuous search for data that can be sold to the public, incentivizing the consumerist aspect. This trend leads to an obsession with the practice of benchmarking. The goal is to stress test the device in order to retrieve a score that can be used to compare different phones. While reviews and hands-on videos spread across the web, versus.com becomes more and more popular. This website allows you to compare the technical specifications of different smartphones. Platforms like these contribute to shaping the debate in a purely technical realm. We can imagine that this tech direction is also a consequence of homogenization in terms of design  2 : if the device cannot stand out aesthetically, it must do so through its technical capabilities. Since the variety of shapes, screen types, and colors has become obsolete, branding strategies had to adapt.

  2   The term design here is understood more in a consumer sense, related to the aesthetics of products.

Smartphone’s average ram and rom in 15 years
Smartphone’s average ram and rom in 15 years (Rom Ram ) based on this dataset.

Iphone Pro Max 13 ads Iphone Pro Max 13 ads
Iphone Pro Max 13 ads (2021).

AnTuTu Benchmark screenshot
Top 20 Best Performance Android Phones /Tablets, according to AnTuTu Benchmark (2012).

In this period, manufacturers decided to release more and more phones into the market than the usual annual unveilings: hence, an overabundance of devices was created. Consumers had to face this clutter, being seduced to consider the computational aspect as crucial, no longer finding answers in product design. Also nomenclatures became more complex: we can notice the widespread use of terms like mini, plus, pro and ultra, which confuse the consumer. These categories, based on supposedly objective technical capabilities rather than aesthetic qualities, created a clear hierarchy. Slide-out keyboards, rotating cameras, and satin finishes are no longer criteria for producing and categorizing phones. The new policy of manufacturers is to produce the flagship model with the highest performance possible and saturate the market in the mid-range by distributing mini, ultra or max variants.

After the dramatic spike in phone production since 2011, companies have stopped optimizing and updating software for the entire product range, focusing only on their flagship models. This leads to the abandonment of parallel devices of the main models and all those low-mid range phones. The life of the products was drastically reduced - if you could not afford a flagship phone the device could be considered obsolete at the moment of purchase. This new attitude causes an increase in planned obsolescence, creating artificial demand generation. To prevent abandonware, that is software that ceases to be supported by manufacturers, the community of consumers and enthusiasts started taking action themselves. According to the International Data Corporation Android smartphones held 59% of the market in the first quarter of 2012.  3  The wide diffusion and the open source nature of Google’s OS facilitate hacking practices and flourishing of communities that start to develop independent software. It’s in this context of smartphones with short life cycles, old or at best poorly optimized software that the story of modding begins. This movement is a practical response by developers and users to the rush for high-end hardware imposed by manufacturers.

  3   Fingas, J. (2012). IDC: Android has a heady 59 percent of world smartphone share, iPhone still on the way up. [link]

Meme about phone naming
Meme about phone naming. [link]

Some of the smartphones released by Samsung during 2010
Some of the smartphones released by Samsung during 2010.

1.2/Closed systems / open systems An ecosystem, in biology, describes all the organisms, the physical environment in which they live, and defines all of the complex interactions and mutual dependencies. The balance that is created allows the system to function. For software, the concept is much the same  4  : services, delivered in the form of applications, interact and respond to each other within an environment that provides this connection. Within our smartphones we have different services that communicate among themselves, optimizing mutually. The interconnection is the value that keeps us within a system. We choose our preferred ecosystems precisely based on their ability to cover not only every area of work but also leisure. We can argue that now almost all the systems on our phones are ecosystems, and that is true, but on which features do these systems change? One aspect we can consider is the openness of the system. By openness we can consider how much the environment is user-customizable or how prone it is to receive influences from third-party components. Openness for a technological ecosystem also means how much developers can get their hands on it and have access to the mechanics of operation. In the case of Android, after certainly being considered one of the systems where the user has the most room for action, it also has an open source core: this means that much of its code is made available by the parent company. But as the tech journalist JR Raphael  5  states, the open nature of Android does not only apply to the user, who is free to customize his or her device as he or she wishes, but it also applies to manufacturers and phone companies, which sometimes block the freedom of the system in advance.

  4   “Open” vs. “Closed” Software Ecosystems: A Primer. [link]

  5   Raphael, JR. (2010). Android IS open -- but 'open' means different things. [link]

The Android ecosystem is really fragmented and it differs from brand to brand, from device to device. Unlike other systems that run on a few phones, Android is spread across a large scale of devices, and an optimization process is needed. Taking in account the most common distribution and use of Android, the system as a user perspective can be divided in three layers:

– The Android Open Source Project (AOSP);
– The Google Mobile Services (GMS);
– The custom interfaces by the manufacturers.

the Android Open Source Project platform
Diagram representing the Android Open Source Project platform (Tutusitte). [source]

The Android operating system is based mainly on a modified version of the Linux Kernel. The core of the system is AOSP (Android Open Source Project), a free and open source software released under the Apache License. The source code is maintained by Google, which updates and releases the code every time a new version of Android is released. Even if the core code of the OS is public, the AOSP code doesn’t contain the device’s drivers; it’s up to the manufacturers to make them available or not. Over the past decade, Google has made several decisions that have made Android a system increasingly dependent on Google services. Without the Google app store for example, you won’t have access to all the apps on the market. There are devices, such as educational tablets for kids or car tablets, which don’t need to be dependent on Google services. They are just using the AOSP code to run a basic version of Android. If this can be valid for specific products, for most of the smartphones having access to Google Mobile Services is fundamental to be part of the Android market. The GMS (Google Mobile Services) is composed of a set of apps (like Gmail, Maps, Play Store…) and APIs (application programming interfaces) that allows the user to have access to all the Google ecosystem on your device. This package is usually already installed on most of the devices: a report shows how over 70% of smartphones come in the market out of the box with the GMS package.  6  In order to pre-install the Google services to their devices, manufacturers need to buy a license from Google, which is free around the world, except for the EU.  7  A big problem of Android is the software fragmentation: since the system has to run on such a wide range of hardware, delays on updates and security patches are common. Google tried to fix the problem by updating some of the system apps through the Play Store, independently from regular OS updates. In 2012 they announced the Play Services, which is a proprietary software package that runs in the background, maintaining updated Google libraries and services on your phone. These libraries include sign-on, location and security protocols, as cloud infrastructures for gaming, printing and payment. Play Services was advertised as a way for developers to combat fragmentation by helping them distribute the code once to every device. Ron Amadeo, a reviewer and tech writer specializes in Android OS and Google products, wrote on Ars Technica (2013)  8 :

Calling Play Services an "app" doesn't really tell the whole story. For starters, it has an insane amount of permissions. It's basically a system-level process, and if the above list isn't enough for whatever it needs to do next, it can actually give itself more permissions without the user's consent. Play Services constantly runs in the background of every Android phone, and nearly every Google app relies on it to function. It's updatable, but it doesn't update through the Play Store like every other app. It has its own silent, automatic update mechanism that the user has no control over. In fact, most of the time the user never even knows an update has happened. The reason for the complete and absolute power this app has is simple: Google Play Services is Google's new platform.

In this way, Google is privatizing several system mechanics, making them closed-source. What is left to the Android core if we remove most of the functionalities? Can we continue calling it an open system? This change caused a lot of issues for modders who developed custom ROMs without including Google services: a lot of apps that used Play Services (so not only the Google’s ones) could no longer run on just AOSP based Android distributions.

  6   Hughes, T. (2014). Google and Android Are Not the Same... and That’s a Good Thing. App Developer Magazine. [link]

  7   Kastrenakes, J., Patel, N. (2018). Google will start charging Android device makers a fee for using its apps in Europe. [link]

  8   Amadeo, R. (2013). Balky carriers and slow OEMs step aside: Google is defragging Android . [link]

Google Play Services screenshots
What happens when you try living without Google Play Services (From Ron Amadeo’s article).

In 2012 FairSearch, a lobbying group of organizations that include Microsoft, Oracle and Nokia, sent a complaint to the European Commission to expose the monopoly of Google. They state that Google forces manufacturers to use its services, orienting Android to a more proprietary system. This is not only regarding the influence on Android but also the privileged position as a search engine. Between 2018 and 2019 Google has been accused of abuse of Android dominance by the Competition Commission of India and the EU antitrust, leading them to reformulate the services license agreement by separating it from the Android OS license. When Google understood the big role which the OS could play in the smartphone industry, they reverted these changes and closed the Android ecosystem. Richard Stallman, free software movement activist, has been very critical of this approach, arguing that this closed-source drift of Android may totally subvert the operating system from its initial purposes.  9  The company states that these decisions are made also for security reasons but many independent developers, connected to the open source communities, claimed that in an environment where code is open to access, it’s easier to fix system flaws. The Mountain View company is forcing OEMs and developers to buy its license to have a complete experience of the OS, slowly turning Android into a freemium service. Also, some native applications that at the beginning were part of the AOSP, gradually have been substituted into proprietary apps. Search, music, messaging, camera, calendar and other services have migrated to the Google-branded version. They changed their concept of Android: the goal it’s not anymore to build an open-source mobile operating system but just provide a structure to add Google services.

  9   Stallman, R. (2011). Is Android really free software? [link]

Comparison between AOSP native apps and Google ones Comparison between AOSP native apps and Google ones Comparison between AOSP native apps and Google ones Comparison between AOSP native apps and Google ones
Comparison between AOSP native apps and Google ones. [source]

Some manufacturers tried to follow this trend of making their own ecosystem inside Android. Samsung successfully replaced all the GApps, improving the AOSP services with a proprietary ecosystem made by a wide suite of apps. The South Korean brand made an attempt to emancipate from Android, developing their own linux-based mobile OS called Tizen, later abandoned. More manufacturers have begun to pre-install many apps on their devices, which are also the result of business deals with other companies, giving rise to the bloatware phenomenon.  10  Bloatwares are unwanted pre-installed software, and they can include tools for managing the SIM card to apps that push you to use particular services.

 10  Amadeo, R. (2018). Google’s iron grip on Android: Controlling open source by any means necessary. [link]

Samsung ecosystem
Samsung ecosystem made in response to Google's take on Android. [source]

Other companies decided to take some distance from Google while still using Android, developing some forks. Amazon developed FireOS, an Android fork independent from all the Google services, used mainly on Fire Tablets but also for the Amazon Echo. They created their own launcher, app store, music player, browser. Chinese brands such as Huawei, OPPO, Vivo and Honor received sanctions from the U.S. government between 2019 and 2020 for their connection with the Chinese government. In response to this, smartphones sold internationally by most of these companies are devoid of the GMS package and the Android trademark, as they are no longer supported by Google.  11 

Independent developers have tried to develop their own ecosystems and take advantage only of Android's open source core. In communities connected to open source and free software ideals, it’s common to find product and software subversion practices. These solutions are part of what Cory Doctorow calls "Adversarial Interoperability".  12  This phenomenon involves creating a product or service that fits into existing products without the company's permission. It’s a way for users to regain agency over their devices. The first one was CyanogenMod, one of the most popular custom ROMs ever, which later developed its CM Apps as opposed to Google Apps. The CyanogenMod successor, LineageOS, included a free and open source implementation of Google libraries called microG. This project, mainly maintained by Marvin Wißfeld, has the goal to replicate the main APIs provided by Play Services avoiding installing the official components and without collecting data from the user activity. microG, together with some aftermarket app stores like Aptoide or F-droid (which contains only free and open-source apps) become really popular in the modding environment for connecting official and unofficial ecosystems. The Murena company and /e/ foundation (who is the main supporter of microG) resell refurbished smartphones with their /e/OS on board, which aims to prevent Google from collecting data.  13  They replaced Google Apps with services that provide a better level of privacy and anti-tracking policy.

 11  Warren, T. (2019). Huawei confirms the new Mate 30 Pro won’t come with Google’s Android apps. [link]

 12  Doctorow, C. (2019). Adversarial Interoperability. [link]

 13  Duval, G. (2018). /e/ manifesto. [link]

Screen of the Fire OS by Amazon The CM App Manager
Screen of the Fire OS by Amazon (left/top).
The CM App Manager (right/bottom).



How can users/citiziens have agency over the smartphone industry?

2.1/A brief history of modding Tracing the history of modding is in some way reconstructing the Android evolution through the years. The practice of modding started together with the first Android phone: The HTC Dream G1. In September 2008, a method of obtaining administrator privileges, also referred to as root permission, was discovered in the Dream G1, allowing modified software to be installed. A small group of independent developers have been getting involved by creating unofficial builds, not released by the companies, called custom ROMs. The first popular custom ROM was developed in November 2008, just two months after the distribution of the phone, and it’s called JF ROM, from the main developer JesusFreke.  1  He stopped working on his project in 2009  2  and he recommended to his fanbase to install a new ROM from a developer called Cyanogen. Behind Cyanogen there is Stefanie Kondik, a Samsung software engineer who is the creator of the most popular Android ROM ever: the CyanogenMod. The CyanogenMod was the most influential distribution for several reasons: both in popularity but also in the vision it carried. As we will later see in the custom ROM section of this chapter, the key-word in those firmwares is customization. Not only does it involve applying aesthetic changes, as a custom skin would, but it also allows you to tweak battery settings, the processor's clock rate, screen brightness levels, and more in the performance and system settings as well. The widespread popularity in the forums accelerated the process of institutionalization of this project as the main alternative to the stock software in the Android market. They were the first to introduce the OTA (over the air) update system, typical of proprietary software, to an independent project, simplifying the firmware update process and making modding a more mainstream practice.

Another famous name in the first modding era was AOKP (Android Open Kang Project), released starting from 2011. The name is a portmanteau of “kang”, intended as stolen code, and “AOSP”. The main features of this ROM were also oriented to the customization as the CyanogenMod, with a special submenu dedicated to edit different aspects of the interface such as the status bar, the navigation bar, the lockscreen, the home screen and much more. This phase of the modding was focused on investigating the potential of the software by exploring its more technical aspects. Testing the limits of the working environment allows us to set the boundaries between what is possible and how far we are from implementing certain concepts in the interface.

  1   JesusFreke. (2008). XDA Forum thread about JF Rom. [link]

  2   JesusFreke’s blog post about quitting the development of his custom ROM. [link]

CyanogenMod 6 running on the HTC Dream G1 CyanogenMod 6 running on the HTC Dream G1
A CyanogenMod 6 running on the HTC Dream G1.

Since 2012, Android modding communities have been spreading. It is during this year that some of the most popular ROMs such as OmniROM, Resurrection Remix OS, SlimRoms and Paranoid Android are developed. In September 2013, the developer Rohan Mathur, a member of the Team Kang developer group, said in a tweet  3  that their AOKP ROM had reached 3.5 million users: modding had become a settled trend in Android devices. Two strands of ROMs emerge at this stage of modding: the first, on the path of early concepts, tends to favor strong customization, including many features from different manufacturers. The second, including Paranoid Android or Slimroms, aims to offer the purest and minimalistic Android experience, focusing on bringing the most up-to-date system versions to as many devices as possible. A key event happened in 2013: Cyanogen Inc. was founded with an initial investment of $7 million, with the goal of commercializing the CyanogenMod project. This opening to the market was frowned upon by the modders communities that populate the forums. Many developers complained seeing their efforts capitalized, even without having received proper recognition or compensation for their free work.  4 

  3   Rice, J. (2013). AOKP ROM Passes 3.5 Million Users, Android 4.3 Nightlies Available Now. [link]

  4   pulser_g2. (2013). [ROM][4.3][ CM 10.2.] Unofficial CM 10.2 for Galaxy Note II (N7100).. Xda developers. Post #548.[link]

Complains about the new policies of Cyanogen Inc
Extract from a forum thread: the user pulser_g2 complains about the new policies of Cyanogen Inc.  4 

As modding began to take hold, the established business of Android got interested in this underground world. The big response from the users pushed even Google in 2014 to try to acquire, without any success, the CyanogenMod.  5  On December 31, 2016 the Cyanogen Inc team announced  6  the interruption of the support of the ROM, keeping all the source code available for those interested. The project that has inherited the lead role among ROMs is LineageOS. Originating from the CyanogenMod team, it is still the most highly distributed today so much so that many of the custom ROMs draw from its source code. However, the Cyanogen case was not the only instance of the mainstream market's foray into the modding undergrowth. It’s not rare that developers from the forums community were hired by companies to bring the experience they had in the independent world to the established market. Hung-Lin "John" Wu (known as topjohnwu on many forums), the creator of the famous rooting tool Magisk, was hired by Google in May 2021.  7  He started working in the Android Platform Security team, since his main work was finding system flaws to run its software package.

  5   Sun, L. (2014). Why Google Tried to Buy Cyanogen for $1 Billion. [link]

  6   El Khoury, R. (2016). Cyanogen Inc shutting down CyanogenMod nightly builds and other services, CM will live on as Lineage.[link]

  7   Hager, R. (2021). Google hires an Android community rooting guru.[link]

2.2/The philosophy of modders Many of the Android developers come from the world of Linux and free software. Since the 1990s, these groups have had a strong influence on the imagery and philosophy behind the outputs they produced. A strong imprint was made by the hacker movement, which sees information sharing as a duty. A core value is freedom of information understood as the freedom to publish and access information. Open knowledge movements promote both open content practices, such as open source software, publication of open data, and open research methodologies.

The hacker ethic promotes several principles that we can find in Android modding. The promotion of decentralization occurs in this movement through the adoption of distributed systems for software development and a general rejection of bureaucracy. They build their collective knowledge in forum threads and repositories, in which everyone is welcome to contribute. We can claim that the vision of software development understood as a sort of artistic practice (as hackers believe) is also an aspect found in modding. Many of the efforts are focused on changes that could be defined as not purely functional, such as themes and skins, that cover a more personal and artistic needs. The anti discriminatory matrix of hackers, for whom age, gender, race, or education are not elements of judgment, is often preserved by the anonymous nature of users in forums, who use nicknames and avatars to represent themselves. Their common vision is simply to improve their experience as users, in line with the hacker principle that computers are tools that should be used to improve our lives.  8  According to Steven Levy, if as many people in society would take this pose, computers would bring an improvement to our world. Other similarities can be seen in the Right to Repair movements. They see technology as a box to be opened, analyzed and reassembled.

  8   Levy, S. (1984). Hackers. New York: Dell Publishing. P. 37.

A common battle being fought on by the two movements is over allowing devices to be unlocked, with the goal of being able to install custom software and adapt it to one's needs.  9  This is seen as a consumer right. For these activists, it’s important to give users/consumers the tools to understand their devices, through manuals and guides. The dissemination of information and manuals plays a key role in Android modding: the majority of writings in forums consists of tutorials and installation guides. In this context, developers also acquire activist characteristics as they advocate for a more free, open and decentralized technology. This demonstrates the political aspect of modding. Their practice goes beyond software development but is an expression of an idea of technology that they intend to apply to society. When tech-enthusiasts enter into those communities they start to act as citizens. The users seek to counter balance market trends imposed by manufacturers by creating their own patch and structures: mods. This hacking practice counteracts planned obsolescence and reverses the production relationship from top-down to bottom- up. If we consider computational luxury, as well as any luxury, a symbol of belonging to an elevated social class, then modding is a political practice. Modding tries to break down social differences by redistributing software resources equally to different product ranges. Mods, skins, themes and custom ROMs are the user's response to computational luxury. Modders are transforming the debate around a private market into something public. In doing so they bring to light some questions. How can users/citizens have agency over the smartphone industry? Are tech companies part of the public sphere? If so, what are the users’ rights?

  9   Klosowski, T. (2021). What You Should Know About Right to Repair. New York Times.[link]

A protest organized by Schraube Locker!? and European Environmental Bureau in Etterbeek, Belgium
A protest organized by Schraube Locker!? and European Environmental Bureau outside of the Albert Borschette Conference Centre in Etterbeek, Belgium (2018).

There is something they inherit from these movements but they make it more personal, which is the attitude. It can be described with the term "explorative playfulness". Explorative in the way that they make use of experiments, sometimes even incomplete or fully functioning, to investigate the interface. This characteristic leads them to create mods and ROMs to understand their surroundings. The practice of modding is thus an exploration through which they test the software boundaries on which they operate. Playful since the motivating drive to produce software is primarily passion and curiosity about firmware. There is no substantial financial return except in the form of donations or special cases of partnerships. Play also comes from the free choice to work on very specific aspects, making them identitary: changing an icon, a color to an element or adding a feature becomes a source of pride for some users. There is usually a sincere enthusiasm to share the progress with the rest of the community. For example, we have seen that early custom ROMs such as JF ROM or CyanogenMod owe their names to the nicknames of their creators. It’s a way to gain credibility in a network where peer-to-peer reputation is one of the few returns on his or her own contribution. This collective activity also leads modders to impart conceptual value, sometimes even unconsciously, to a primarily technical action. Hence, the driving force behind this practice is the desire to experiment with a set of tools combined with a playful enthusiasm. The hacker in the common imagination is a saboteur who tries to steal data and destroy infrastructure, but it’s not like that. The figure just described is what is called a “cracker” while the hacker is defined as "an expert or enthusiast of any kind".  10  So if we consider the enthusiasm and expertise of the modders encapsulated in the “explorative playfulness” approach, the modding community perfectly embodies the hacker's culture.

 10  Pekka, H. (2001). The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age. New York: Random House. P. viii.

2.3/What can you do? The practice of modding includes several procedures that allow you to have more control over your device. As we will see, some of these are hindered by manufacturers and involve limitations in the use and maintenance of the smartphone. Since all OEMs develop their products differently from the others, it's not possible to draw a standard procedure for modding each device. It's true, however, that the basic principles remain the same, and here we will try to trace them. They can be summarized as:

– obtaining administrator privileges (root access);
– installing apps or frameworks that require root;
– unlocking the bootloader;
– installing a custom recovery;
– flashing mods;
– flashing custom ROMs.

Possibilities of modding
Possibilities of modding and the user journey.

One of the first procedures you can perform is to obtain root permissions. As regular users we only have access to part of the files on our phone. To access and/or modify system files, we need special permissions. Obtaining root permissions therefore means that we can more deeply modify components of the device. Applications that allow deep backups, change firmware functions and design may require these permissions to function properly. At times some applications that require certain security standards may not work once root access is obtained, as well as system updates may be blocked. To begin the deeper modding process, a required step is to unlock the bootloader. The bootloader is a software that runs every time you turn on your device. Usually it can start the Android OS, boot into recovery or other modes. The bootloader also verifies the integrity of the boot and recovery partitions before executing the kernel. Having an unlocked bootloader allows you to install unofficial firmwares and recoveries. Unlocking the bootloader can be accomplished by using certain tools that are different for each brand. For some manufacturers, once the bootloader is unlocked, the device's warranty is voided, but it’s not always like this. In some cases it’s the manufacturers themselves who make the procedure available on their websites, like it happens for HTC and Sony or, rarely, the device is already unlocked at the moment of purchase.

Procedure to unlock the bootloader
Diagram of the procedure to unlock the bootloader on an Android device (the path may be different for other devices).

Next, our device is ready to replace the system recovery with a third-party one. A recovery it's a bootable partition on your smartphone that can restore your phone to the conditions of purchase, wipe some partitions and install new updates. To access the recovery you need to press a combination of keys while the device is turning on. After-market Android recovery solutions provide the ability to create a backup of an Android device and data on external storage, and the most important aspect, install unofficial software like mods or custom ROMs.

Stock recovery from Google Pixel 7 Custom TWRP recovery
An option offered by a stock recovery from Google Pixel 7 (left/top) and a custom TWRP recovery (right/bottom).

Now that we have all the requirements, we can search the sections of the forums dedicated to our phone model and look for mods to install. Typically mods come as a .zip package to be flashed via recovery, but procedures may vary. Each discussion in which a mod is posted is usually accompanied by an installation guide. It's not easy to give an idea of the potential of mods, as it's possible to change practically every aspect of the device. I will therefore take the Samsung Galaxy SII as an example, since it's a model that has received much attention from the modders' community, to illustrate some examples of mods.

TITLE/ [MOD] Remove "Your phone will shut down" prompt

AUTHOR/ gcrutchr     YEAR/ 2011

This mod simply removes the text "Your phone will shut down" when the phone is turning off. [source]

TITLE/ (mod) call recording-s2 i9100-ics

AUTHOR/ poolakkal Suresh     YEAR/ 2012

It adds a record button on the phone app, allowing you to save on the internal memory .amr files. This feature is integrated on the main phone app, so it works without installing a third-party dialer app. [source]

Record button on the phone app

TITLE/ [Mod][ICS] Camera.apk with better audio quality/video bitrate/use at any battery

AUTHOR/ zxz0O0     YEAR/ 2012

When this mod is installed it’s possible to use the camera and the flash at any battery life. It removes the camera sounds and increases the audio and video bitrate in order to have better quality. [source]

TITLE/ [MOD] NFC Enabler [JB] [ICS] [KK]

AUTHOR/ jthatch12     YEAR/ 2012

This is a patch to fix NFC problems that occur installing different custom ROMs. There are several files of this mod for different Android versions. [source]

TITLE/ [MOD][GUIDE]Partition your internal memory for better App management (Pit Files)

AUTHOR/ metalgearhathaway     YEAR/ 2013

You can allocate more internal space of the memory dedicated to install apps, changing the partition of the device. In this way you can move less apps to the external SD memory. [source]

TITLE/ [MOD][Guide]How to change Dialer background in real time

AUTHOR/ remuntada78     YEAR/ 2014

With this mod it’s possible to customize the background color of the phone dialer app without rebooting the device. [source]

Phone dialer app

TITLE/ [MOD][ZIP FLASHABLE] Remove bloatware, fix fonts, custom apps and settings

AUTHOR/ IonutGherman     YEAR/ 2016

This package removes a series of preinstalled apps on many custom ROMs and changes others like the launcher, the browser, the keyboard. It also substitutes the system font to fix issues with emoji. [source]

Screenshot of a forum comment

TITLE/ [MOD] [BLN_MOD 1.0.3] [OFFICIAL] [23/06/2016]

AUTHOR/ arnab     YEAR/ 2016

Every time you receive a notification, the menu and back buttons blink as notification LEDs. [source]

Notification LEDs blinkNotification LEDs blink

The variety of mods reflects users' intentions: for some, modding is a solution to fix problems that the manufacturer does not care about. For others a way to enhance their device with new features, and in this sense it fully represents Cory Doctorow's adversarial interoperability. For some, modding is more of a playful thing: a series of experiments, even on graphical minutiae, arising from the enthusiasm of the infinite possibilities. In addition, in the forums you can also find alternative kernels that you can install again using the same procedure as a mod. But it’s not only by flashing mods that you can change your device. Since 2013 some toolkits have become popular among tech-enthusiast like Xposed Framework and Magisk. These are platforms that allow you to install third-party mods to customize your phone without using the recovery. Both systems need root permissions to work. One of the most famous mod for Xposed Framework is GravityBox, which allows for customization of the status bar, navigation bar, lockscreen, notification system, and more. GravityBox was also defined as a ROM-killer module, since it brings most of the visual customization available through custom firmware with a simple app. Magisk is a suite of tools created by developer John Wu that includes not only a module manager but also an app for managing root permissions. Just as with Xposed, Magisk modules range from changing system fonts, customizing gestures and commands, or calibrating CPU power. Over time, mods that bring features or aesthetic improvements have been incorporated into toolkits such as those just described or integrated within custom ROMs.

Unique controls Unique controls
Unique controls (2017): a Xposed Framework module that brings some features of the Paranoid Android ROM on any devices.

GravityBox, the most popular Xposed Framework
Some of the options available with GravityBox, the most popular Xposed Framework (2015).

Now let's take a look at the main core of the Android Modding: the custom ROMs. There are a wide variety of ROMs out there, here we are going to analyze some of the most popular ones, trying to understand how they differ and what main innovations they have brought to the Android interface. At a conceptual level, we can recognize different categories of ROM, which have different goals:

– those that try to be more full featured, including as many customizations as possible (such as AOKP or ResurrectionRemix);
– those that aim to maintain an environment more similar to pure Android, focusing on few features that distinguish them (such as Paranoid Android and SlimRom);
– the hybrid ones, which try to find a balance between the two trends (such as CyanogenMod, OmniROM or LineageOS).

This variety reflects the needs of different users. Some users want to modify and get their hands on every color, icon, gesture, function, making the system sometimes even less performant but more personal. They perceive their device as an object to be analyzed and disassembled, and the ROM becomes their toolbox. Other users simply seek an efficient and up-to-date system, perhaps even with features that the manufacturer of their model has not implemented, but more performance-oriented.

Comparing the most popular early ROMs, CyanogenMod and AOKP, we can see their totally different vision. CyanogenMod initially emerged as the main custom ROMs, focusing on diffusion: in 2016 it was compatible with more than 570 devices.  11  AOKP, however, available still on major smartphone models, made customization its strong point. It was the first to include a specific option in the settings dedicated to custom changes, called ROM Control. From here it's possible to change not only the appearance of the status bar, navigation bar, notification panel, and lockscreen (as is also the case with CyanogenMod) but much more: from the type of vibration, to the boot animation, through the use of a tablet mode. Some noteworthy features are ribbons, which are swipe-activated menus in which to enter shortcuts to apps or functions. In addition, the AOKP team was the first to include in 2013 the ability to adopt dark mode and a section to manage individual app permissions (features that Google did not include in stock Android until 2019).

 11  CyanogenMod. Devices. Archived from the original on 19 August 2016. [link]

AOKP ribbons settings AOKP Rom Control
AOKP ribbons settings (top/left) and Rom Control (bottom/right), 2013

The main virtue of CyanogenMod is stability: the huge community behind it has ensured a good level of performance, making sure to bring a fully functioning firmware, which is rare for custom releases. Over the years it has introduced and later removed multiple features, incorporating the peculiarities of other related projects. It certainly brought innovations to the modding scene, such as the OTA updates and the introduction of a theme manager. It was the first custom firmware that allowed users to open a proprietary account to access and synchronize their services, a sign of the maturity of the project.

Theme Manager of the CyanogenMod 7
Advertising image for the Theme Manager of the CyanogenMod 7 (2011).

Another ROM worth mentioning is Paranoid Android: an example of very slim firmware similar to stock Android. This project originated under the name AOSPA, which recalls the pure and open source nature of Android. Although over the years it has never fallen for the allure of massive customization of coeval firmware, it's known for introducing some innovations. Most obvious of all is the pie control, which is a radial dial of shortcuts accessible with a swipe, replacing the navigation bar. Connected to this is the immersive mode, which hides the navigation and status bars on the short sides of the display to take full advantage of it. With the pie control the Paranoid Android team sensed a trend that was soon to explode: maximum optimization of screen area. First with virtual buttons and gestures  12  to save lower space and then with the notch for the upper one, the market followed this process of simplification with physical and digital design solutions.

 12  Introduced by Google in Android 9, five years later than Paranoid Android.

Evolution of the screen size and buttons
Evolution of the screen size and buttons layout in a decade (2011-2021).

Here are some diagrams representing the most modified interface elements.

Lockscreen customization
Click on the image to change the interface element.    [1/6]

The history of ROMs, unlike mods and other expressions of modding, entails a broader story of Android hacking. Since they are more structured projects we can grasp the ideals of developers and users. We can understand why certain firmware has had more traction than others and what really moves thousands of developers to produce free software for the benefit of the community. The explorative playfulness plus a political push kept Android a free environment, in a decade in which big players and manufacturers tried to close it for profit. Modding is still working as a resistance practice.

CyanogenMod T-shirt design
A design of a CyanogenMod T-shirt, sold in their online store.

2.4/Spreading the knowledge A key aspect for any community are the spaces of gathering: a community is such when it establishes its own spaces, rituals and keeps track of their cultural production. These spaces are home to the collective knowledge constructed by members and they tell something about the methodologies they adopt. Since modding includes an international community, the spaces are therefore online platforms. To address the different ways in which this community produces knowledge, we will divide the discussion into two sets of tools: the ones used for internal communication and those for reaching an external audience. For the first category these spaces are mainly repositories and specialized forums. Those tools are structured in a decentralized way. Repositories are web platforms, which tend to be distributed systems, where developers keep track of software, with a shared versioning system. Many of the developers use GitHub as a working environment for ROMs and mods, similar to other projects with an open source nature. The user jbro129, starting in 2021, has collected the most popular repositories regarding Android modding within one page  13 , ranging from mod and themes, to toolkits and tutorials. It’s not uncommon, for more structured projects, to have their own platform to host the development. The LineageOS team has built a framework based on Gerrit, a web-based team code collaboration tool.

 13  jbro129. (2022). android-modding, A collection of github repositories related to android modding. GitHub. [link]

LineageOS Gerrit website
LineageOS Gerrit website. [source]

Specialist forums provide both a channel for software publication and a space for peer-to-peer dialogue. It’s here that slang, trends, schools of thought and new projects are born. The most famous forum for Android modding is XDA developers. Founded in 2003 as a hub for Windows Mobile enthusiasts  14 , it soon welcomed the Android community, becoming a hotspot for enthusiasts in the early 2010s. This forum has a section for almost every smartphone on the market: for each section users create threads filtered by different categories like apps and themes, Android development, or more general chat section.

 14  XDA Developers Team. About XDA. [link]

List of threads XDA
List of threads in the Google Pixel 7 section. XDA Forum (taken the 23rd of February 2023).

To share their knowledge with an external audience, modders use mainly two tools: the forum threads and YouTube videos. Forums, given also the more extensive structure, remain the main choice for posting projects and providing technical support. If forums are familiar environments for open source development communities, YouTube videos are something unheard of in these pioneering years. YouTube had a boost in popularity around 2011-2012, together with modding communities, so it became an important space for dissemination. The forum threads are mostly animated by experienced users, or at least those who have a basic knowledge of the topic: this presents a stumbling block for a novice user who is immediately confronted with complicated technical language. Video tutorials may be easier to understand, either because of the ability to follow on-screen steps, or because the content is sometimes re-edited to be more digestible. YouTube tutorials are the bridge between technical knowledge of developers and the needs or curiosities of a more general audience.

On YouTube there are three different types of tutorials. The most common is a visual step-by-step demonstration, featuring a person who shows how to achieve a result guiding the audience through all the steps. The second category is the walk-through, in which a person performs a replica of a process to demonstrate it in front of an audience. For modders, the breakdown of processes consists of video guides on how to install pieces of software. Then the third kind is more similar to a lecture format and consists of a talk about a subject, helped by visual materials. The tutorial is a medium that embodies the features of informal learning.  15  One characteristic is the interactive feedback mechanism, meaning that part of the knowledge also resides in the exchange that is made in the comments section of each video. This can be also seen as an example of another of the qualities of video tutorials: they use a mix of different learning techniques to communicate content. In music we talk about "pedagogical syncretism" when learning from different sources, similarly with modding tutorials. They mix textual, verbal, and visual explanations. Footage, screen recordings as well as diagrams contribute to the explanation.

 15  Lange, P.G. (2018) Informal Learning on YouTube. United States: California College of the Arts

How To Root (Almost) Any Phone in 2020! by Sam Beckman How To Root (Almost) Any Phone in 2020! by Sam Beckman How To Root (Almost) Any Phone in 2020! by Sam Beckman
Three snapshots taken from the same video, "How To Root (Almost) Any Phone in 2020!" by Sam Beckman. Between the same video there are different explanation settings.

Ultimately, a phenomenon that needs to be taken into account is incidental learning. As Lange (2018), an associate professor of critical studies at California College of the Arts, states:

As a subset of informal learning—incidental learning—may prompt learners to reevaluate tacit assumptions, recognize mistakes, and reconsider their interpretations of others’ actions. Ideally, for incidental learning to take root, it must eventually move from being tacit to a state of recognized awareness, through processes of self-reflection.  16 

Then, during the process of watching a video tutorial, we not only learn the content, but also tend to critically absorb how it is conveyed. This in the modding community becomes very productive: users are often creators and users at the same time. Thinking about how to effectively explain a procedure helps peer communication. All these peculiarities have made YouTube an outreach platform that has contributed to the fortunes of modding.

 16  Lange. (2018). p.7



How can we build a common knowledge as a community?

3.1/Market and modding in the new decade Since 2020 the development of the hardware is slowing down since we reached a saturation of some features like the display density or the amount of RAM. The politics of computational luxury can no longer be perpetrated by manufacturers. Concerning the software, modding is not as popular as before because most of the brands try to keep their system closed blocking self customization practices. OEMs are trying to regain control over the market by making decisions in the software sector. For example in 2021 Samsung made the camera inefficient in the Galaxy Z Fold3 for the users who unlocked the bootloader.  1  On the other hand there are still a lot of Android users who use custom ROMs and mods. The Samsung Galaxy S III and Note II are still updated after ten years after being introduced.  2  Modding survives still today for several reasons: one of them is to keep the software in older models updated, with the goal of counteracting the short life of the devices. Moreover, there are several fork experiments that aim to improve OS security and privacy, such as CalyxOS, CopperheadOS, and GrapheneOS (all three born in 2022). Many users install modules or custom ROMs to customize their devices and adapt them to their own needs more than manufacturers do for them. In this sense, the practice of explorative playfulness still lives on forcefully. The market based on computational luxury has generated a great lack on the software side. The increase in computing power has made it less necessary to optimize apps. The hardware race competed by different manufacturers has left much room for modding to provide software support. Android's biggest problem remains fragmentation and scarce software optimization. The Play Store is full of apps that are similar to each other and poorly developed. The ability to install third-party apps from the store, which was one of the key aspects of smartphones, faded into the background in this first smartphone era. Consumers today rely on one brand over another for the suite of apps and features that manufacturers offer. In this sense, we are almost back to the pre-smartphone era. The large assortment of possibilities that these systems preached has been reduced to the fifty most popular third-party apps.

  1   Wright A. (2021). Samsung cripples the Galaxy Z Fold3 if you unlock the bootloader. [link]

  2   Ronca V. (2022). The immortals Galaxy S III and Note II update to Android 13 via custom ROM [Italian] . [link]

3.2/Lecture + workshop With the design project, I intend to analyze the modding movement from both theoretical and practical perspectives. This website hosts the research content and a collection of workshop results. The intent is to create a platform that can be updated over time. In addition to the research, published as an essay, the website contains videos that unpack theoretical/philosophical aspects of modding. The videos are vlogs/video essays that, with a referral to YouTube's tutorial culture, hybridize an informative section to a more reflective one. The videos are an entry point, a bridge between the modding theoretical framework contained in the research and a physical activity. The language is characterized by a mix of techniques ranging from direct shooting, device screen recording, and the use of diagrams which are commented on by the host. They are introductory lectures to the workshop. The object of investigation of the workshop is the interface, which is the medium that contains all the contradictions between the closed, market-driven software and the open, experimental, and independent one. The workshop takes into account a collective brainstorming phase to focus on users' ideals and needs. The purpose of this first phase is to create a sharing space in which to introduce theoretical reflection into a purely technical domain. With an approach of explorative playfulness, not unlike the modders, we will try to translate participants' concepts into features to be implemented in the interface. At the same time, it is a discussion about the practice of modding as a collective activity. Starting with technical problem solving, it creates new imagery, though interfaces, that makes users more aware of their tools.



In which tone do we want to talk?

ADBAndroid Debug Bridge is a command-line tool that enables you to connect a device with a computer. The ADB command facilitates a variety of device actions, such as installing and debugging apps, and it provides access to a Unix shell that you can use to run a variety of commands on a device.
Bootleg appmodified version of apps made by independent developers to add or edit some features. Bootleg software is sold or distributed without the required permission from the trademark or copyright holder/owner.
Bootloaderit’s a piece of software that runs every time you turn on your device and it is responsible for bringing up the kernel. It can start the Android operating system or boot into recovery. The bootloader also verifies the integrity of the boot and recovery partitions before moving execution to the kernel. Having an unlocked bootloader allows you to install firmwares and recoveries from third-party developers.
Brick“to brick” is a tech slang term that means rendering a working device inoperable, as it is useful as a brick. First used in the context of modding mobile phones. When a device is soft bricked it is possible to restore the system and make it working again. If a phone is hard bricked there is almost no way to make it work again. A phone could be bricked if there are some errors during the modding procedures.
Buildthe term build is usually used to refer to the process of transforming source code into an executable artifact. Sometimes the same term is used to refer to the artifact obtained through that transformation process.
Clock ratethe clock rate or clock speed refers to the frequency at which a processor can generate pulses, and is used to indicate the processor's speed. Usually on Android phones is expressed in frequency hertz (Hz).
Custom ROMmodified android firmware that replaces the stock ROM to change features or skins of a phone. Custom ROMs can be developed by manufacturer and officially distributed or they can have origin from communities of independent developers.
Fastbootengineering protocol similar to the recovery but without any interface. When a device is turned into fastboot mode it’s possible to connect it to a computer and send ADB commands.
Flashingin tech slang flashing a smartphone means installing a mod, a custom ROM, or whatever piece of software in a manual way. Usually it can be done through specific computer programs or when the device is in recovery/fastboot mode.
Forka fork or a branch, in the field of software engineering and computer science, means the development of a new software project from the source code of an existing one by a programmer.
Freemiumis a marketing strategy of offering a basic version of a proprietary product (mostly proprietary software) for free and possibly offering additional features for a fee.
GAppsshort version of Google Apps, they include all the main services of the brand.
Kernelthe kernel is a software that provides a secure and controlled access to the hardware. Can be seen as a bridge between software and hardware components.
Moda mod is a piece of software that can be installed on a device in order to add, remove or modify features or design aspects of a main software.
Moddingit is a slang expression derived from the English verb "to modify". The term refers to modification of hardware, software, or anything else, to perform a function not originally intended by the designer, or to achieve bespoke specification or appearance.
OEM it stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer, and it refers to a company that makes a product under its own brand name. Also called parent company means that it is the manufacturer that makes the original product, using components sourced from direct suppliers.
OTAOTA stands for over-the-air and it refers to various methods of distributing new software or configuration settings. One important feature of OTA is that one central location can send an update to all the users, who are unable to refuse or alter that update.
Recoveryit is a dedicated and bootable partition on your smartphone that can install new updates to your device. By using a combination of keys, recovery mode is displayed on the Android device. After-market Android recovery solutions provide the ability to create a backup of an Android device and data on external storage.
Root permissionrooting is the process of allowing users of the Android mobile operating system to attain privileged control (known as root access) over various Android subsystems. The root permission may be asked by apps to change system files, implement or modify pieces of software.
SkinAndroid skins are software tweaks that live on top of stock Android. They often look very different and offer features that other skins don’t.

4.2/Bibliography: books and papers Aneesh, A. (2012) Informationalism. The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Globalization. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Bogers, L. & Chiappini, L. (Editors) (2019). The Critical Makers Reader: (Un)learning Technology. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures. Castells, M. (2004) The network society: a cross-cultural perspective. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar. Garfinkel, S., Weise, D., Strassmann, S. (1994) The UNIX-HATERS Handbook. United States: IDG. Habermas, J. (1985) The Theory of Communicative Action, Volume 2: Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason. Beacon Press. Lange, P.G. (2018) Informal Learning on YouTube. United States: California College of the Arts. Levy, S. (1984). Hackers. New York: Dell Publishing. Manovich, L. (2013) Software Takes Command. Bloomsbury Academic. Pekka, H. (2001) The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age. New York: Random House. Raymond, E.S. (1999) The Cathedral and the Bazaar. O'Reilly Media. Sennett, R. (1970) The Uses of Disorder. Verso Publishing. Von Busch, O. (2014) Hacktivism as Design Research Method. In The Routledge Companion to Design Research (pp.226-235). Routledge.

4.2/Bibliography: articles, videos, forum threads Amadeo, R. (2013). Balky carriers and slow OEMs step aside: Google is defragging Android. Arstechnica. [link] Amadeo, R. (2018). Google’s iron grip on Android: Controlling open source by any means necessary. Arstechnica. [link] Bhargav97. (2014). [GUIDE] OmniROM special features and unusual stuff. XDA Developers (forum). [link] bluefa1con. (2013). [AOSPA 4.2.1] ParanoidAndroid 3.0. XDA Developers (forum). [link] Chamberlain, E. (2022). What Is Right to Repair? iFixit. [link] Dixon, T. (2021) Pixel 6 Pro Teardown: Google Actually Did Something Right! iFixit. [link] Doctorow, C. (2019). Adversarial Interoperability. Electronic Frontier Foundation. [link] Doctorow, C. (2022) Repair Wars: Cory Doctorow on the State of Right to Repair. Make Zine. [link] El Khoury, R. (2016). Cyanogen Inc shutting down CyanogenMod nightly builds and other services, CM will live on as Lineage [Updated]. Android Police. [link] Hager, R. (2021). Google hires an Android community rooting guru. Android Police. [link] Hildenbrand, J. (2021). What are Google Mobile Services (GMS) and why does my phone need them?. Android Central. [link] Hughes, T. (2014). Google and Android Are Not the Same... and That’s a Good Thing. App Developer Magazine. [link] jbro129. (2022). android-modding. A collection of github repositories related to android modding. Github [link] Kastrenakes, J., Patel, N. (2018). Google will start charging Android device makers a fee for using its apps in Europe. The Verge. [link] Klosowski, T. (2021). What You Should Know About Right to Repair. New York Times. [link] pulser_g2. (2013). [ROM][4.3][ CM 10.2.] Unofficial CM 10.2 for Galaxy Note II (N7100). XDA Developers (forum). [link] Raone. (2020). Android Modding Explained! (Rooting, Custom Rom, Bootloader...). YouTube. [link] Raphael, JR. (2010). Android IS open -- but 'open' means different things. Computer World. [link] Ray, B. (2013). All cool kids' phones run ALTERNATIVE alternative custom Android ROM. The Register. [link] Rice, J. (2013). AOKP ROM Passes 3.5 Million Users, Android 4.3 Nightlies Available Now. Android Police. [link] rINanDO. (2021). [ROM][UNOFFICIAL][12.1.0][r7][I9100] LineageOS 19.1 [ALPHA]. XDA Developers (forum). [link] Russakovskii, A. (2011). 13 Ways CyanogenMod 7 Makes My Android Phone Feel Future-Proof [Deep Review]. Android Police. [link] Sahani, A. (2019). Why people are going crazy for custom roms. Medium. [link] Stallman, R. (2011). Is Android really free software?. The Guardian [link] Wang, J. (2019). This company will sell refurbished Android phones with all of Google's services removed. Android Police. [link] Warren, T. (2019). Huawei confirms the new Mate 30 Pro won’t come with Google’s Android apps. The Verge [link] Wright, A. (2021). Samsung cripples the Galaxy Z Fold3 if you unlock the bootloader. Android Police. [link]

This publication resulted from research conducted
as part of the individual thesis project in the master
department Information Design at
Design Academy Eindhoven, The Netherlands

April 2023

Simon Davies
Anna Engelhardt
Marco Ferrari
Dimitri Jeannottat
Silvio Lorusso
Gert Staal
Irene Stracuzzi

Written and designed by Marco Pagan

Press Kit