It's no secret that Sony has been in the news a lot lately. From the PSN downtime, with the identity theft issue that comes with it, to the numerous court cases launched to try and quell the PS3 hacking Scene.
It may come as a surprise to many, then, that Sony's mobile smartphone division has taken an almost polar-opposite approach - they're actively encouraging developers to create, modify and install customised Linux kernels into their latest lineup of phones, including the Xperia Play, the device that was once known as "The Playstation Phone".
When Sony originally released their Xperia line of Android phones, many people were disappointed at how locked down the devices were. Many people consider Android's flexibility one of its best features, yet it's difficult if not impossible to install a customized OS if the phone's bootloader is locked down. This was particularly noticeable on Sony's phones as they were slow to roll out newer Android OS versions, leaving many users on Android 1.6 while different manufacturers happily rolled out 2.1 and even 2.2. Many users were annoyed at the lack of updates, but also at the inability to install an unofficial Android ROM.
Sony took a lot of this criticism on board and announced that their 2011 range of phones, such as the Xperia Arc and the Xperia Play, would have the ability to have their bootloaders unlocked. Before the phones were even in stores, Sony launched a dedicated site for unlocking your phone.
However, Sony has now gone a step further and given detailed instructions on how to create your own customized Linux kernel for the devices. The blog goes into great detail on how to build, assemble and flash a kernel using the source that Sony legally has to provide, thanks to the GPL license that the Linux kernels falls under. Customized Kernels are par for the course in the Android world. They're often used to extend the features and functionality of the device, such as allowing it to support additional file systems, improve the camera, increase battery life, and allow for overclocking, among many other things.
It isn't for the feint of heart, though and the blog does repeatedly state that doing anything of the sort could void your warranty, nor do Sony Ericsson promise any kind of support, however they have promised to monitor the community and help out where they can:
Sony Ericsson does not guarantee any support on this, but we will monitor the Building the Linux kernel for Xperia phones thread on the XDA Developers forum. However, we cannot guarantee an answer for every question asked in this forum.
This is a significant step forward for Sony, who appear to have made a complete 180 degree turn when it comes to their mobile devices. It also means that Sony is one of the most developer-friendly handset manufacturers out there, arguably making their phones as developer-friendly as Google's own-brand devices, if not more.
George Hotz once bragged that he would be the first to "hack" the Xperia play, but it seems Sony themselves beat him to the punch by opening the device up to everyone.