Dear friends, we’re gathered here today to mourn the death of that once-beloved monarch of the mobile world: BlackBerry. And, yes, I realize that this is not the first time we’ve announced the death of the company or its devices (and, for reasons I’ll explain below, it likely won’t be the last) but this is a very definite ending for legacy BlackBerry hardware. As of January 4th, any phones or tablets running BlackBerry’s own software — that’s BlackBerry 7.1 or earlier, BlackBerry 10, or its tablet operating system BlackBerry PlayBook — will “no longer reliably function,” says the company. Whether on Wi-Fi or cellular, there’ll be no guarantee you can make phone calls, send text messages, use data, establish an SMS connection, or even call 9-1-1. That sounds pretty darned dead to us. This seems ripe for a community of dedicated fans to build custom servers to keep things going – much like exist for many older games.
MuditaOS has been released as open source. This mobile operating system is designed specifically for the Mudita Pure e-ink mobile phone, and is based on FreeRTOS. Developing our mobile operating system has been a big challenge in the process of creating Mudita Pure. We came up with a beautifully designed E Ink mobile OS and open-sourced it to fully meet our users’ desire for quality and transparency. This is an interesting take on the minimalist feature phones that enter the market every now and then, but I always wonder what the market is for these things, and how long it takes for users to give in and grab their regular smartphone again. You can find the code on GitHub.
The headline improvement is one that was already trailed by Ville in his recent Sandboxing blog post. From now on, any app that defines an application profile will be automatically sandboxed. This is currently an opt-in process; any app that isn’t updated in this way will still run outside the sandbox. As a user this means you will start to see some third party apps bring up the sandboxing dialogue on first run. You should already be familiar with this from 4.2.0, in which the Jolla apps were already sandboxed. In 4.3.0 Suomenlinna you’ll start to see this more often. Users can of course still run apps however they want, but can feel more confident when running apps inside the sandbox. This is an important security advancement, and follows the roadmap Ville described towards having all apps sandboxed. We’ve been careful to increase security without compromising user-control, and we think you’ll appreciate the extra peace-of-mind that sandboxing brings. That’s a big new feature, and a welcome one, too. As usual, this new version also includes improvements to Sailfish’ Android application support and its web browser, among other things.
Sailfish OS 4.2.0 has been released, and it packs a completely reworked sharing systems, improvements to the browser and camera application, further work on application sandboxing, and more. Read the full release notes for more details.
Pumpkin is the name I have given to my port of PalmOS running on the x64 architecture. Please refer to this article for basic information on this project. Also look for other articles in the PalmOS category for more information and some technical details on the implementation. This article is about the first Technology Preview of this project: a functional version of Pumpkin OS running on the Windows platform. This first release is limited on purpose: just a few PalmOS applications and nothing much else. This is also a binary only distribution, but do not worry, full source code will be released in the future. I’ve been following this project for a while now, and this is bonkers awesome work. Very limited for now, of course, but as a longtime Palm OS user and lover of all things Palm OS, this feels like it’s made just for me.
Apple is gearing up to roll out iOS 15 later this year. The company plans to roll it out to several of its devices, going all the way back to the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus. This will make Apple the only smartphone OEM to offer seven years of software updates to its devices. That’s a remarkable feat, considering that only a couple of OEMs on the Android side promise three years of OS upgrades and four years of security updates. To bridge this gap, the EU proposed a new law earlier this year that would force all smartphone OEMs to offer up to five years of security updates for their devices and deliver reasonably priced spare parts for the same duration. Although the EU’s new right to repair laws are yet to go into effect, the German Federal Government has now announced plans to extend the support timeline by two years. A spokesperson for Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economics recently said (via Heise Online) that the government body plans to enforce stricter rules that would require OEMs to deliver spare parts and software updates for seven years. In addition, the Federal Government wants OEMs to publish the spare part prices and not increase them over time. That’s excellent news. With Germany being such an important part of the EU, I can only hope they will set the tone for the rest of the countries to follow. Do note, however, that it’s election season in Germany, so be on the lookout for political trial balloons.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been running CalyxOS. It is the latest in Free/Open Source mobile phone operating systems that I’ve used. This post is a summary of my experience using FLOSS mobile OSes and what my experience can tell us not only about phones, but Free/Open Source OSes in general. An excellent rundown of the various options in this space, and I’m tempted to see if I can make this step in the near future too. Cutting Google out of my mobile phone would be quite, quite welcome.
We’re happy to share with you the many firsts in this release: the 1st fully stacked 64-bit ARM Sailfish OS, that you can download and flash onto the Sony Xperia 10 II, which is also the first Sailfish device with AOSP-10 HW adaptation. The commercial Sailfish X package also introduces the 64-bit Android App Support for Xperia 10 II. Sailfish OS Kvarken 4.1.0 has now moved from early access to full release. That means the early access bugs have been ironed out, but also that the paid-for additions (particularly Android App Support) are also now available for it. While the headline changes in 4.1.0 is the shift to full 64-bit ARM and support for the new hardware, it also introduces many other improvements, including to location data support, VPN support, audio recording, browser, calendar sync and contact sync, amongst other things.
It’s 2021, and it’s time to upgrade your smartphone. Maybe it’s getting slow, it might be damaged, or your device’s OEM refuses to update your version of Android. Whatever the reason, you set your budget and full of hope and starry-eyed about all the possibilities, you go to your preferred electronics store (or carrier, if you’re American) – and as you scroll through the possible phones, your hopes are shattered and your heart sinks in your shoes. Your choices are between an endless array of black slabs, and while you can technically choose between Android and iOS, you will have most likely made that specific choice ages ago, and switching platforms is hard. Slightly dramatised, sure, but the reality of smartphones today is that all of them look and feel the same. The difference between mid range and high end have shrunk over the years, and while there are still small differences here and there, the general experience is going to be the same from device to device. Even if you skip a few years of upgrades, the jump in performance to the latest and greatest processor isn’t going to make that much of a difference in your day to day use. While you can technically opt for one of the new folding phones, the reality is that they still suffer from early adopter problems, and their prices are far beyond what most of us would want to pay for a smartphone. With all phones looking the same, it’s hard to find a company willing to stand out in a crowd of black rectangles. One of the victims of this race to the rectangle is the smartphone keyboard – whether it’s BlackBerry or Android phones with keyboards, they’re basically no longer being made, and if you’re simply not a fan of typing on featureless glass, you’re pretty much out of luck. Except, not really. There are a few companies left still making smartphones with keyboards, and the British company Planet Computers is one of them. This British company does not just focus on building Android smartphones with keyboards – they take the concept a step further and gun for the iconic Psion devices from the ’90s. The company’s chief designer, Martin Riddiford, worked at Psion in the ’90s and aided in the design of the Psion Series 5’s keyboard, and that design has formed the basis for the company’s first two devices: the Gemini PDA and the Cosmo Communicator. After seeing my sorrowful lament of the Nokia N900, the company contacted me and asked me if I wanted to review their Cosmo Communicator Android smartphone. I obviously didn’t hesitate to say yes, and after a few weeks of delay due to our first child being born, I can finally give you my thoughts and insights on this device that fills a unique niche in the current mobile landscape. Keyboard and hinge The Cosmo Communicator is unlike any other Android device on the market today. As to be expected due to its pedigree, the device resembles a Psion Series 5, or perhaps a Nokia Communicator if you’re more familiar with that line of devices. When closed, the device is thicker and heftier than most other smartphones, but there’s a valid reason for that: open it up, and inside you’ll find a full QWERTY keyboard with real keys. When opened, it looks more like a small laptop than a smartphone. I want to dive straight into that keyboard, since it’s by far the device’s most defining feature. First of all, it’s smaller than a regular keyboard, obviously, so it definitely takes a little time to get used to. I have small hands and tiny fingers, so for me, it wasn’t that hard to get used to the size of the keyboard. The layout of the keys feels natural, and for me, there are no cases where I would’ve opted for keys in different positions. With such a cramped space, you’ll always have to make compromises and hard choices, but I think the Planet team has made all the right choices. The layout will take some getting used to, but that’s to be expected with any new keyboard, especially one in such an exotic form factor. I’m slightly less happy about the actual typing experience, though. Granted, I am a very light typist who applies relatively little force to each key press, but I found that my key presses would often not register unless I applied what I would consider too much force. This problem increases the farther away from the home row I am, and it’s downright annoying. Getting used to a new keyboard layout and smaller keys is one thing – unless you have truly gigantic hands, it won’t take you more than a few days – but having to change how hard you press down on a key is very, very hard to learn. However, as said, if you apply more force for each key press than I do, this might not be much of an issue at all for you. You might wonder if you can use the keyboard when thumb-typing. My hands are definitely too small for thumb-typing, as reaching the centre-most keys requires an uncomfortable amount of stretching and grip adjustments. Again, though, my hands are small, and if you have more average-sized hands, you might be able to thumb-type just fine. The keyboard is backlit, and comes in a variety of keyboard layouts to choose from upon purchase. Using the Fn key, you can also control things like volume, brightness, airplane mode, and other Android-specific features, and Planet was smart enough to include full inverted-T arrow keys. Aside from the cramped size, it comes very close to offering all the functionality of a regular keyboard, and while my personal typing style doesn’t mesh well with it, the Planet team has done a great job given the constraints they were working in. Moving on from the keyboard, the second aspect of the Cosmo that stands out is
Sailfish OS Kvarken 4.1.0 has just been released to Early Access users across all officially supported devices, alongside which there’s also been an announcement of official support for the Xperiai 10 II. The free trial version of Sailfish OS is available for Xperia 10 II devices now in the early access phase. The commercial licences will be launched when OS release 4.1.0 rolls out to all users. In addition to the long list of bugfixes and feature improvements, Kvarken 4.1.0 on the Xperia 10 II is also the first version of Sailfish OS to run as 64-bit on ARM.
In what seems like several lifetimes ago, the mobile devices market seemed like it would be wide open. Even as the window for platforms that weren’t Android or iOS was closing rapidly, we were all hoping we wouldn’t end up with another duopoly. While there were several contenders – BlackBerryos 10, Windows Phone, to name a few – quite a few more nerdy mobile device users held out hope that instead of neutered, restrictive, and limited operating systems, we’d end up with a true computer in our pocket. No other device represented this slice of the market better than the Nokia N900. The N900 was the last standard Linux mobile device from Nokia, the last in the line of the N770, N800, and N810 internet communicators. The N900 was the first to include mobile phone functionality, making it the first Linux mobile phone device from Nokia, but not the last – the N950 and N9 would follow, but those were markedly different, more Android and iOS than standard Linux. The N900 ran Maemo, Nokia’s Linux platform for mobile devices, developed in collaboration with and/or using many popular open source Linux projects, like the Linux kernel (obviously), Debian, Gtk, GNOME, Qt, and more. Maemo’s user interface used the Matchbox window manager, and its application framework was Hildon. Underneath the Gtk+ user interface, Maemo was a remarkably standard Linux distribution, based on Debian, so you had easy access to all the usual Linux and Debian command line tools. It used APT for package management and software installation, BusyBox as the replacement for the GNU Core Utilities, and the X window manager. Still, despite its heavy focus on open source software, certain parts of the software stack were still closed source, like some code related to power management, as well as certain bits and bobs of the user interface, like a few status applets. This “mostly open source, but with some closed bits and bobs” would be a running theme into the future branches of the platform, like Sailfish and MeeGo. The hardware of the N900 is a case of throwing everything humanly possible into a single device, but to keep costs down, it mostly consists of cheaper parts. For example, the 800×480 resolution looks crisp on the 3.5″ display, but despite being released almost two years after the iPhone, the touch screen is resistive and requires a stylus. The SoC is a Texas Instruments OMAP3430, with a single core running at 600Mhz, supported by a 430 MHz C64x+ DSP and a PowerVR SGX530 GPU. You’ve got 256MB of RAM, 256MB of NAND flash, and 32GB of eMMC flash. The star of the show, of course, is the slide-out keyboard. It’s a full QWERTY keyboard that’s reasonably comfortable to type on considering its small size, and anyone who has ever used a Symbian device with a keyboard will feel right at home. It’s got a little kick stand, stereo speakers, and TV-out functionality through a special dongle and cable. Seeing Maemo 5 output to a giant 55″ 4K TV is a special kind of entertaining. Add to this the various standard things like WiFi, Bluetooth, a headphone jack, removable battery, rear and front camera, a dedicated camera button, and probably a few other features I’m forgetting. The N900 comes packed. Users of the N900 when it was new were a special kind of people. One of them was my brother – he was a die-hard N900 user for many years, so much so he bought a spare N900 in case his main one died. It wasn’t until the N900 really couldn’t keep up with modernity anymore – well past that point, honestly, but let’s not hurt his feelings – that he begrudgingly decided to switch over to an Android phone. He gifted one N900 to me for my collection. The N900 is a special kind of device that, while a footnote in mobile history, holds a special place in the hearts of a dedicated group of users who nobody is serving any more. These people wanted a proper mini-computer in their pocket, preferably running Linux, and the N900 was the only device that properly fit that niche. Its sort-of successors – the N9 and Jolla Phone, which I both have as well – simply do not fill that niche and do not scratch that itch. Today, most N900 users have probably migrated on to Android (and a few stragglers to Sailfish, I’m guessing), leaving behind the standard, regular Linux installation for the bastardised, weird Linux offshoot from Google. While you can install BusyBox on Android and unlock the bootloader and sort-of create an approximation of a standard Linux computer in your pocket – without the keyboard, without the more standard stacks and toolchains, it’s just not the same. There is still some hope for fans of the N900 – and other people who want a true Linux computer in their pocket – since there are two companies that sort-of cater to this niche. First, there’s F(x)tec, which probably comes closest with its line of smartphones with a slide-out keyboard. They currently offer a very cool device up for pre-order that’s capable of running Android, Sailfish, Ubuntu Touch, and standard ARM Linux distributions as well. I’ve been trying to get into touch with them for a review unit, but they have not responded (we’re small, after all). Another option that requires a bit more squinting are some of the very tiny laptops made by GPD – such as the GPD Pocket 2 and similar devices they make. They’re not quite the same as the F(x)tec or N900, but you can get quite close. GPD, too, has not responded to review requests, but again – we’re small, and if you can send stuff to outlets like Linus Tech Tips, OSNews simply isn’t on your radar. I’m genuinely sad that the N-line was yet another victim of Nokia’s endless mismanagement, since the N900 is simply a unique, one-of-a-kind device in a category virtually nobody even dares tip
The KaiStore team keeps up the momentum with another set of updates that make it easier to find the apps you’re looking for and enhance the UX experience as a whole. We don’t talk much about KaiOS on OSNews, which is a shame – it’s an offshoot of Firefox OS, and a massive success on phones that blends smartphone and feature phone functionality into one platform. This isn’t a big news item or anything, but ran across it and feel some attention for this platform is more than warranted.
Sailfish OS has moved into its fourth generation with the release of Sailfish OS 4.0.1 Koli. On a high-level Sailfish 4 includes several security and functionality updates, the long-awaited browser update, redesigned daily usage flow of key applications, as well as a rebooted developer experience. In particular we’re proud to boast full-scale OS-level Mobile Device Management (MDM) to enable easy and manageable end-to-end trusted corporate and governmental sector deployments. There are also a bunch of other new additions, including Android 9 app support, app sandboxing, and QR code scanning, along with improved notifications, events view, contact management and more.
Where and when did pocket computing start? Did it start in Silicon Valley, at HP, IBM, or Apple? Did it start with the Palm Pilot, or Apple’s Newton? Not quite. No, it started in the United Kingdom, with a device that today looks more like an old calculator than a modern smartphone – but it has applications, a homescreen with apps in a grid, two memory card slots, and a whole lot more. I’m talking, of course, of Psion, the British company operating out of London that built and sold the very first personal digital assistant – a full computer small enough to slide into a pocket, with various functionalities common to mobiles phones and smartphones, like clocks, alarms, an address book, phone book, a file manager, a database, a search tool, and more. It also had an implementation of BASIC, and support for external hardware accessories and two memory card slots. The hardware The computer in question is the Psion Organiser II, a successor to – you guessed it – the Organiser, retroactively dubbed the Organiser I. The Organiser II improved upon its predecessor in a few key ways that vastly expanded its capabilities and usefulness. First and foremost, the RAM was expanded from a mere 2 kB to 8, 16, 32, or 64 KiB (or even 96 KiB, but I’ve never seen one of those), which gave developers and programmers a lot more room to play. Second, instead of a single-line display, the older Organiser II models had two lines, and later models doubled that to four lines. Third, while the original Organiser did not have an operating system, its successor came with a single-tasking operating system. Another major change between the two generations is the addition of an expansion connector for hardware accessories. Situated at the top of the device behind a tiny sliding door sits a female hardware connector in which you could plug things like an RS232 port, and devices such as speech synthesizers, telephone dialers, and more. Especially the ability to connect barcode readers and thermal printers made the Organiser II incredibly popular in a variety of industrial applications. The beating heart of all Organiser models is a Hitachi HD6303XFP processor running at 0.9 MHz, which isn’t the fastest processor in the world, but fine enough for the intended use of the device. Since opening up my Organiser II to check for the exact part and model number of the processor is out of the question (I would need to remove and deform a glued-on metal band), I don’t know which exact model my device has. Using the Organiser II I have a Psion Organiser II LZ64 model, which is one of the later models with the four-line display and 64 KiB of RAM. After sliding down the cover – its sleeping bag, as I call it – you reveal a battery door at the bottom of the device. Slide in a 9V brick battery, press the ON button, and the first thing you need to do is pick a language. After selecting your desired language, the Organiser II will start to look and feel remarkably familiar – especially considering it came out in 1986. The default screen is what can only be described as a home screen, with apps listed in a grid. You use the arrow keys to move a blinking underscore cursor around to select the app you want, and hit the EXE button on the keyboard to launch it. The software of the Organiser II has a few interesting characteristics. First of all, the ON button functions as a back and home button too – pressing it will always take you back one screen until you hit the home screen. It’s nice to know that no matter what you’re doing or no matter how much you’ve lost your way, this button will always get you back to familiar ground. Subsequent and modern mobile operating systems all have a similar button. Second, the main storage is addressed as A:, and two memory slots as B: and C:, probably in an effort to feel familiar to users of CP/M and DOS-like operating systems, which all used the same concept of drive letters. What makes this doubly interesting is that the Organiser’s drive letter convention survived and made its way into the next operating system Psion would develop, EPOC. You probably know EPOC under a different name – Symbian. The incredibly popular and successful Symbian mobile operating system used drive letters, and it can trace that all the way back to Psion’s Organiser line. Many of the applications listed on the home screen are pretty self-explanatory. Time allows you to check and set the time, including daylight savings, and the device has no problems related to Y2K. With Alarm you can set up to eight alarms that can ring daily, every hour, and so on, which will ring even when the device is off. Notes opens a simple notepad, Calc is a calculator, and so on. There are three other applications that I’d like to focus a bit more on. The first and second are Find and Save, prominently listed as the first two items on the home screen. Unlike later and modern devices, the Organiser II treats things like phone numbers, addresses, and other similar and related information a bit differently. Basically, using Save, you enter information in what is effectively a flat database, without using any specific entry fields like “Phone number” or “Last name” (with Xfiles you can copy, paste, and create additional databases alongside your main one). After saving your entry, you can then use Find to retrieve it. So, after opening Save, you get the following prompt: 12:30 Save on A: >_ You can then enter a name, address, and phone number, e.g.: T HOLWERDA123 567 89012 BEOS STREETAB1234 DANO You can then use Find to retrieve this entry using any of the entered data as a query. It’s a very simple and straightforward way of managing information,
I recently received my Librem 5 (Evergreen) from Purism. The Librem 5 is a smartphone that runs an otherwise standard linux kernel. However, unlike Android which also relies on the linux kernel under the hood, the Librem 5 uses a GNU userspace, adapted for mobile. This makes it more akin to your typical laptop in some ways, although the form factor still resembles a modern smartphone (at least, mostly). Here are some preliminary thoughts about the phone and how it compares to Pine64’s Pinephone, which is another phone that uses neither Android nor iOS, and relies on a GNU / Linux based OS. A detailed look at and comparison between these two smartphones that definitely share a target market. Devices like this are an excellent example of something I can now consider buying and reviewing thanks to our lovely supporters on Patreon.
The headline improvement in this new version of Sailfish OS is a big upgrade tot he browser engine. We’ve upgraded the browser engine to Gecko ESR52. This makes using the Sailfish OS browser already much more enjoyable! This isn’t the end of the story though, and is in fact just the first step of our plan to gradually upgrade the browser. As the browser is open source, some of you may have already noticed from the repositories that we are continuing to upgrade the engine for upcoming releases. Newer browser engine versions bring in thousands of bug fixes, improvements to the rendering and compatibility with various newer browser technologies. On top of that, this release brings experimental Rust support, the first steps towards 64bit ARM support – about time, I would say – and support for multiple users on a single device.
Huawei has been in a tight spot in the past couple of years, and their situation keeps getting tighter. But the Chinese giant has no intention of going anywhere, at least not without putting up a good fight. Last year, at HDC 2019, Huawei had announced its own first-party operating system, Harmony OS, showing off an important piece of its vision for the future. Harmony OS was shown off first on the Honor Vision Smart TV, and Huawei remained committed to Android at the time for its smartphone needs. The company reiterated those plans again in December 2019. But recent developments have forced the company to rethink its strategy. At HDC 2020, Huawei has now announced that Harmony OS will come to smartphones after all, with an expected beta SDK by the end of 2020, and a phone release around October 2021. We will probably not see much of this operating system here in the west, but I’m still intrigued. It’s entirely custom – not based on Linux – and they’ve been working on it for quite a while now. I have no interest in it from a general use perspective since I doubt it will be very useful here in the west, but am incredibly curious to see what they’re cooking up.
We’ve been hearing rumors over the past few months related to a secret phone project at LG, codenamed “Wing.” The LG Wing appears to be a new take on dual-display phones by featuring a secondary display that flips out in a twisting motion. Android Authority has obtained an exclusive video that shows a near-final version of the phone, making us think its release date can’t be too far away. The video gives us a better idea of how the phone will work while simultaneously giving us some hints of why the secondary display could be useful. I’m so glad that device makers are getting a bit more adventurous again. We’re sure not at crazy Nokia level yet, but at least we’re slowly getting devices that aren’t boring slabs.
There are a lot of things that are not visible for a casual Sailfish OS user. This 3.3.0 release contains a vast number of updates for the lower level of the stack. We’ve included for example the updated toolchain, a new version of Python and many updates to core libraries such as glib2. In this blog I will go through a few of the changes and what they mean in practice for users, developers and Sailfish OS in general. You can also read the more detailed release notes. It’s nice to see my original Jolla Phone – released in late 2013 – is still supported, as is the ill-fated Jolla Tablet from late 2015. I’m probably one of the few people in the world who actually got a Jolla Tablet, delivered straight from Hong Kong in a non-descript brown packaging, but I never seriously used it.
Today KaiOS Technologies, maker of KaiOS, the leading mobile operating system for smart feature phones, and Mozilla, developer of one of the world’s leading web browsers, announced a partnership to enhance the Gecko engine for KaiOS, enabling a more diverse and open mobile internet for users around the world. Kai’s engineering expertise and Mozilla’s software support together will ensure future versions of Gecko are compatible with KaiOS-enabled devices and their web-based resources. I really want a KaiOS device to give the platform a proper test. It seems like such an elegant midway point between the cell phone of yore and modern smartphones.