Linux smartphone: how things are

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Past

Let’s start by compiling a short list of the main causes of failures in Linkfon projects:

  • Openmoko: Financial issues,
  • Nokia (Maemo / Meego): Change in corporate strategy (new CEO),
  • HP (webOS): Change in corporate strategy (new CEO),
  • Mozilla (Firefox OS): Changing the “Corporate” strategy (shifting focus to IOT),
  • Canonical (Ubuntu Touch): Changing corporate strategy (shifting focus to the cloud and profitability).

This is, of course, a gross oversimplification, and I admit that the real story is much more complex in each case. Plus, it’s hard to compare the current players, PINE64 and Purism (and a wide variety of community projects), with companies the size of Nokia, HP, or even Mozilla or Canonical. Comparison to Openmoko probably works best.

Openmoko

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Openmoko started in 2006 as a project in a larger companyand then was collapsed. Their hardware was a little outdated even for that time and kept getting outdated (ARMv4, GPRS; Linux also worked on many devices originally running Windows Mobile at the time) and weaker than they hoped. They developed their OS in open mode, but on their own (the developers were hired) and they had to redo it three times. They are couldn’t afford to make their third phonethat would fix many problems (3G, competitive SoC, …) by financial reasons, and decided instead to do WikiReader, and then slowly evaporated as a company.

The period from 2006 to 2009 was a difficult time to get started in the smartphone market: both Apple and Google (within Open handset alliance) entered a very dynamic market at the time. 3G technology has made mobile data truly worthwhile, ARMv7 architecture has added computing power, and capacitive touchscreens have changed the user experience forever.

Today

When we compare this to today, we have a completely different situation: from year to year, the rate of improvement in smartphone technology may be declining, and the market can be considered saturated.

Unlike Openmoko, both PINE64 and Purism also manufacture other consumer electronics products that they sell, resulting in a more diversified business: they don’t rely solely on their phones.

Purism

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Purism develops their own software in house, they take a smart, minimalist, community-friendly approach that works pretty well. Taking as much of the upstream projects as possible and working with them, as well as developing the little things they need to do:

  • libhandy (as a library to make GTK applications mobile and converged, now GNOME project),
  • mobile shell,, [виртуальная клавиатура(https://source.puri.sm/Librem5/squeek доска)] and applications for calls and chats,
  • the hardware of their Librem 5 device.

Unfortunately, they are not that good at delivering phones: they recently announced further delays and price increases

PINE64

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Luckily, PINE64 does a better job of delivering its Pine phone. In 2009, Openmoko is believed to have shipped 10,000 phones, more than 3 times that number. This is important as it means that there is a relatively large community of both developers and users who actually have physical hardware to develop and use. Linux phone apps

The community is also where PINE64 software development takes place, they produce community software devices. This has led to increased activity in community projects such as Plasma Mobile (formerly Plasma Active) and many new small projects like Sxmo and countless others.

Does this mean that we are “safe”?

We can never be sure, but the situation is much better. There is an impulse! We’ve got the hardware, and I’ve heard rumors of several upcoming Linux phones for 2021, although I’m not sure the efforts aren’t in vain given the current component shortage.

Even if we remained limited on the PinePhone and Librem 5 hardware, postmarketOS and other advances in this direction, such as Droidian, contribute to the introduction of the latest Linux-telephone software on a larger number of devices.

Let’s also not forget that projects like Ubuntu Touch (picked up Ubportwhen Canonical dropped it) and Sailfish OS from Jolla continue to work.

However, what is needed is good cooperation and care. Not burn developers! Contribute to code, documentation, translation, or simply help other users whenever you can. Be patient and try to get information by watching videos or reading! Remember: yelling outrage on social media is childish! Offer feedback, but do it constructively.

We can only be safe if we build and nurture this together!

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