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Holiday Guide 2012: OEM of the Year

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Posted by Arne Anka

This decision may come as a surprise to some of our readers, particularly given the sales figures posted by Samsung for recent product launches such as the flagship Galaxy S3 and Note II. Nonetheless, this year, the XDA Developers’ OEM of the Year is Sony Mobile.

The relationship between XDA and Sony has been frosty in the past, thanks in part to the locking of bootloaders, subsequent lack of updates, and Sony’s efforts in early 2011 to target open source community “developers” with lawsuits in other product categories (such as the Playstation 3). This resulted in many top developers turning a blind eye to anything and everything Sony. They eventually dropped the suit later on in the year, but that was no consolation to the community.

Despite these events, a change was signaled in September of 2011, when Sony’s Head of Developer Relations posted a notice to the community that they supported independent Android OS developers. Then in early 2012, Sony Mobile released the Sony Xperia S, the first Sony Android phone to be released with flagship-level specs. Soon after, Sony signaled a change in their stance towards open source development by releasing a guide for unlocking the bootloader on the Xperia S and then releasing not only the kernel source code but also a guide for building it.

In just over 12 months, they had gone from suing a developer that hacked the bootloader on his own purchased device, to providing the tools to unlock the bootloader on a high-quality device and giving users the instructions to build the kernel source. No other manufacturer had done that, nor have any others to date. That is full-on GPLv2 compliance like we’ve never seen before at XDA.

Here is a list of the other steps they took towards openness in the community in 2012:

In March Sony officially released a public beta of ICS for the Xperia Play when no other manufacturer was officially releasing betas.
In April Sony released ICS for their entire 2011 line of devices, becoming the first manufacturer to do so.
Their Sony Developer Relations team announced a program to allow developers to borrow devices for application testing.
In August the Sony Xperia S became the first non-Nexus device (not counting the Motorola Xoom) to be included in the AOSP device tree as an experimental device. They then followed that up by releasing the AOSP binaries for the Xperia S.
Later in August Sony began open-sourcing their own code for the Dynamic Android Sensor Hardware Abstraction Layer (DASH for short) to the community.
In October they joined XDA at the Big Android BBQ to discuss their plans for further open source interaction in the community.
They announced they would be taking the lead for the AOSP source for the Xperia S and manage it themselves in their own github, and begin merging in Android 4.2.
They continue to utilize their highly active development blog where their developer team discusses their views on Android, and announce preview “Alpha” and “Beta” builds of updated device firmware and seek user feedback.
CyanogenMod custom firmware distribution is maintained for several Sony devices by a number of Sony Mobile developers, in their own time.
Given the recent trend by companies such as Samsung to often overlook the custom ROM developer community (in favor of application developers), it is refreshing to see Sony going far beyond what is required to improve the experience of their devices for anyone interested in developing for the platform. Given their contributions to the Android community-at-large in 2012 alone, and their complete turn around in less than 16 months, Sony is XDA’s OEM of the Year for 2012!

If you’re looking for a couple great options for Sony devices, we recommend the Xperia S or the Xperia T.

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