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Mar 17, 2014

Intel's 64-Bit Mobile Chips Will Have OS-(B)Locking Features

Bad news for Android users planning to purchase smartphones powered by Intel’s next-generation 64-bit Merrifield chipsets, as the company has confirmed that these SOCs will be OS-locked.

According to German site Golem.de, Intel’s Technical Account Manager Frank Kuypers said in an interview that his company’s upcoming Merrifield 64-bit mobile chipsets would be added a new feature called “hooks,” which is meant to block some of the features, more or less important, if it detects that a new OS has been installed on the device. Kuypers claims that Intel’s new chipsets will be able to detect if an Android user replaces the operating system on their smartphone with another version or with a completely different one, and then block some of the features that user should benefit from by default. For example, let’s say you own an Android smartphone powered by Intel’s new Merrifield mobile chipset and you want to install a CyanogenMod ROM that would presumably make your device faster and more reliable.

Well, you should know that “thanks” to the new “hooks” feature integrated in these mobile chipsets, you risk losing some of the most important capabilities of the phone, such as LTE/UMTS, as well as some – if not all – emails received. The reason is simple, as Kuypers says that Intel’s SoC will be capable of identifying the new software installed as “risk” and will block these features until you revert to the previous OS version recognized as “safe.” The new technology implemented within Intel’s hardware will be active beginning 2014, along with the “hooks” functionality that will be used to lock the processor for certain OSes or OS versions. It remains to be seen which OS versions and/or mobile platforms will be blacklisted by Intel.

I reckon this is an unexpected turn of events for Intel, which isn’t even among the popular mobile chipset producers on the market. Perhaps the company wants to sell even less mobile chipsets to Android handset makers, or else we can’t see a reason to lock down an Android OS, which is an open source platform in itself. Last but not least, it appears that Intel is still undecided whether to make the use of this “hooks” feature public. Purchasing an Android smartphone without knowing that you can update to a new version or install a customized ROM is unacceptable. According to the company, the “hooks” functionality is meant to improve the security on Android devices that are powered by Merrifield chipsets, but this should not affect users’ experience.

Intel Android smartphone
Image credits to Intel


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