AndroidGood and EVO

Custom ROM commercialization: Yea or nay?

Open Source custom ROMs - photo attribution in link

Custom ROMs don’t, and generally can’t, pay a developer back for time and effort put into development. According to tweets and development threads I’ve read recently, you can generally charge for applications that are built primarily on open-source libraries, but attempting to sell your development work on a custom ROM results in outrage, calls to arms, and pitchforks being brandished in anger.

At the end of this, I’m wondering what you think about charging for ROM development.  As a bit of a contrast:

Paid applications

A good app is a significant investment in time. Bandwidth and hosting are generally provided by Google Play or other markets. As a developer, you probably have a somewhat reduced level of development drama, as people can’t produce your exact same work simply by copying your repository, and your comments from the public are generally a three line review on Google Play.

Custom ROMs

Generally, a good custom ROM has a significant investment in time, bandwidth/hosting issues, developer drama, flack from the left and right, and a lot of time devoted to support for what you’ve created for free, and some of what you haven’t created (like when your ROM gets blamed for not playing nice with someone else’s tweaks).

You also have to deal with manufacturer, carrier,  and user drama on a far too regular basis.


A lot of ROM developers pop up a donation link, but from what I’ve gathered, donations generally pay for bandwidth, hosting, and beer for what amounts to a part-time, many times thankless, job.

With most custom ROMs being based off of other’s works in some fashion or another, there’s always going to be tons of code that came before, but with this model, at some point shouldn’t someone be able to profit once again from derivative works that cost hundreds of hours of time? If we stick to the notion that you can’t make money off of anyone’s derivative work, where does that leave us? We’ve seen many developers tip their development hat and leave after creating some awesome works, the resulting drama and thankless support not being worth it for them.

Alternately, there have been some frauds who popped up donation links and claimed only two or three people supported their build.prop modification to hundreds of their followers who financially supported them. That’s the beauty of most donate buttons: they don’t tell you what’s been donated.

I also don’t think one developer has the time or inclination to write a completely new OS from scratch that’s completely compatible with Android and yet is still 100% their own code (I’m close to sure that’s not possible at the moment).

Your thoughts?

I’m interested in your thoughts and opinions on this:

  • How do we reward ROM developers who spend countless hours creating, maintaining, and supporting their products?
  • How do we discourage people from simply taking other developer’s works, modifying a few bits, and selling them as their own? Public shaming doesn’t work if they reach the audience first.
  • How do you promote these ROMs to the public?
  • Can you charge for and distribute just a patch of some sort over a base ROM?
  • How do we make Android a better place than it is for developers and users?
  • Should we even want to change things?

Pocketables readers have, in the past, always had interesting insights on these questions, but I’d love to hear your ideas now. I don’t have all the answers, but maybe you do.

Thanks for raising the question, Alex!

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Paul E King

Paul King started with GoodAndEVO in 2011, which merged with Pocketables, and as of 2018 he's evidently the owner. He lives in Nashville, works at a film production company, is married with two kids. Facebook | Twitter | Donate | More posts by Paul | Subscribe to Paul's posts

Avatar of Paul E King

11 thoughts on “Custom ROM commercialization: Yea or nay?

  • Don’t some custom ROMs already do this eg Paranoid Android, and kernels like NEAK kernel, and mods/patches like the Simplistic Framework, whereby the main thing is ‘free’, and then you can unlock features by paying for an app that unlocks them. PA preferences pro, uNEAK Engine in the play store etc…

    • Avatar of Paul E King

      PA is a ROM, I’ve never seen a charge for it. Simplistic framework is charging for an application to turn on the features, sort of like the fast charge widget.

      Anyone who took the source and modified them could enable the features if they wanted or reverse engineer the thing. So the charge here is for a toggle widget.

      However, they’re charging for a program, not for the ROM itself.

      The NEAK configurator is charging for an interface and an update widget. Not for the kernel or for a ROM. Charging for a program, not the kernel.

      • Aren’t they working around the said conflict of interest here, work posted which many consider should be free even if perhaps otherwise, by providing an app or licence which unlocks further features. It seems a route which more users are willing to go through.

  • Avatar of Braaainz

    tough question. Id be willing to pay for a custom ROM, but I would want some pretty unique features. Also id need a contract stipulating major fixes were free and mandatory or my money back.

  • Avatar of JRDemaskus

    I would need to see user feed back that is not influenced or edited by the developer.
    I would need guarantees of support and bug fixes.
    And most importantly, I would need value in the ROM through increased functionality.
    I also need a clear and easy path to get back to an official ROM if I need or want.
    That all said, I do not use custom ROMs now. Not interested in chasing bugs.

  • Currently, ROM Developers give no assurances that their ROMs will not break devices. That is the first step.

    Most ROM developers don’t have a financial backing to give an assurance to users that it won’t break their device.

    It is used entirely at your own risk.

    With that said, that is why donations work. There aren’t any commitments to either site.

    I would pay for good OTA updates and good features.

    If you ask me, the solution to this problem is giving the developer the ability to add ‘unlockables’ in the ROMs. You have apps tied to the Play store that you buy for $1-5 based on the feature.

    This would have to entirely new features. This also gives developers the ability to still burrow the functionality and place it in their ROM, but the user still has to pay to unlock it.

    I don’t want to see a ROM made up of mostly unlockables, but a few would be great. I would be happy to pay for a little bit more.

    I won’t pay for a ROM because it could break my phone. That would irritate me and I would feel the developer would owe me something (since I bought his software)

    I will pay for unlockable/donation features in a ROM if I feel the ROM/feature was well developed and it’s something I want.

  • I would pay for ROMs, if they were maintained and just worked. I like the benefits of ROMs but don’t have time to tinker.

    Pay ROMs seem to fit well for phones the have been end of lifed by carriers. I would happily pay for a JB ROM for my OG EVO.

  • Unless everyone were to move to a pay model at once, I feel I would have little motivation to pay for a ROM if I could just choose a free one. Isn’t a pay model really in conflict with the whole spirit of Open Source? An app to unlock features is Okay… I guess, but I would never pay for one. How about an Ubuntu philosophy where you pay for support? I have flashed just about every ROM I could get my hands on but never asked for support.

  • Some people inadvertently pay for ROMs by purchasing the premium version of ROM Manager, for example, giving them easier access to “premium” ROM lists. Unfortunately, I don’t think any proceeds from those app sales go to all the developers of those ROMs, but I could be wrong.

  • Avatar of Radimus

    The whole linux/googleframework and the spirit of coding is all based on free.

    This free allows for speedy development at no risk to the developer and the user assumes all risk.

    If you like and appreciate the efforts of the developer(s) then contribute to them. That encourages them to go forward and other to develop ROMs themselves. That causes innovation in the community.

    If you HAD to pay for it, then you’d pay for one (possibly) and then bitch at the developer to work harder/faster and then they may just go away or stop once they are satisfied.

  • Excellent article. I’m the developer of SentinelROM, which has over 5000 downloads across 7 devices at time of writing.

    Support on the forums is a full time job, and in the 4 months I’ve been doing it, I’ve made $60 in donations, despite having well over 3000 active users at any given time. What’s interesting is that its usually one or two people who make substantial donations (over $10) rather than everyone chipping in a dollar here and there.

    At the moment, all my donations are going to charity anyway rather than in my pocket.

    It would be great to monetize and turn it into a full time job, where I could focus 100% of my time and effort into development. But its an unrealistic expectation.

    At the end of the day, I’m developing to get my name out there, because I love doing it, and because I’m learning a crap load about development, marketing and social media. Its really satisfying growing a community of users from scratch and hopefully something that will have rewards for me into the future through the opportunities it creates.

    Thanks again for the excellent article.


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