It never quite made headlines, but Google left something interesting in the official changelog for Android 4.3. The /system folder is mounted as “nosuid” and “zygote processes” are unable to run setuid binaries. This means nothing to us laymen, but it has critical implications for the future of rooting and tinkering with Android. These changes effectively kill every root app except SuperSU. AndroidPolice has a good article explaining why Chainfire’s app alone works (technical reasons).
The new setup in Android 4.3 blocks a common way developers used to get root access before. “This is a pretty nasty change,” wrote developer Koushik Dutta on Google+. He and other developers such as Chainfire are working on creating new ways of rooting to keep the access Android enthusiasts enjoy.
There is no doubt they’ll find a way to root Android again. These guys are brilliant at what they do, Android is open-source, and we’ve seen more impressive feats in the past. One way or another, the community will get root access. It’s a necessity and probably not the end of Android rooting.
However, entertain a thought for a moment. What if we didn’t get root back? What if the next version of Android totally locks it down? What if there is no more hacking or custom ROMs or exploits? In my opinion, that wouldn’t be so bad. In fact, I think that if Google did remove root from the next version of Android (hopefully Key Lime Pie), we could survive without it.
What We Use Root For Now
Now (and especially in the recent past), I use root access to make changes my phone. When I don’t like something in the software, I adjust it to something more palatable.
For example, Sense 3 on my old Evo 4G performed poorly. It slowed the system and looked ugly, in my opinion. However, there is no option to remove an entire manufacturer skin within Android.
So, I rooted and used this power to install a custom ROM more to my liking. CyanogenMod 7 performed much better than Sense 3 ever did.
When I bought a Galaxy S II, I rooted it in order to update to Android 4.2. The official firmware hadn’t moved past 4.0.4 and was unlikely to do so soon.
I installed a custom ROM also because the S II’s version of TouchWiz is aesthetically displeasing. It also lacks the helpful features of later versions of Samsung’s skin.
Once, I used root to read data from a Google Music database in order to display the current song in a widget on my launcher via Tasker.
Those are just three examples of why I like having root access. It lets me do things which normal Android does not support.
Why a Rootless Future Could Happen
Consider this. At its core, using root access is how we do things that basic Android cannot. However, what happens when Android can do these things?
Little by little, Google is fixing the old problems that we used to patch over with root-level fixes. Root access is less and less necessary every year.
Google is alleviating the update problem by pushing new features through the Play Store. Back at I/O, every new feature announced was available on all Android phones instead of just Nexus devices.
That’s the kind of soft update we’ll see in the future. Expect Google to send as much new content through the Play Store as possible.
Then there’s the issue of custom ROMs. In the past, I installed CM as a rule because it was usually better than the stock firmware.
As for the Google Music thing (the one I mentioned above), that could be solved if Google released an official API. You could do this natively instead of screwing around with Tasker.
Root access, in most cases, is about making up for Android’s shortcomings. If those are addressed, then I could see a potential rootless future.
Why Root Will Hopefully Stay
Even if rooting becomes less necessary, I hope it stays. Having total control over your phone is gratifying. It’s good to know that you can make your phone do whatever you want.
In addition, we are nowhere near that peachy future where Android has fixed all its shortcomings and you don’t have to do it yourself with root fixes. Apps like Greenify, Titanium Backup, and SetCPU are popular because they fix problems.
Will root die out? We’ll have to wait and see to find out.