My current work is with products that use u-boot as the bootloader. u-boot takes the binary device tree, adds decorations to reflect the hardware (e.g., describing the amount of installed system RAM), then passes it to the Linux kernel.
It's true that a single system-on-chip processor has a constant part. But it may be one of a large family of such chips. It can be easier to describe the individual components of the SOC in the device tree (e.g., there are PCI Express ports at addresses X and Y and an Ethernet port at Z) than to prepare a code module for each chip.
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