Today I’m going to tell you a sad tale of a device called the Librem 5 and the company behind it, Purism. As of right now, this story does not have a happy ending. I am writing this series of articles as a protest against the behavior of Purism, a company which claims that transparency and openness are their core values. If they won’t tell the world the truth about the Librem 5, then I’m willing to at least give it a go. Everything in these three articles – part two and part three are available as well – reads like the usual kind of stuff that goes down in mismanaged crowdfunding campaigns, especially those for computer hardware. This is why you should always be extremely skeptical of crowdfunding campaigns, and doubly so for ambitious ones. Worse, though, are the claims that the Librem 5 will, in fact, not be entirely open source as promised. This is a big promise to make, and to the people supporting open source projects such as the Librem 5, this is a massive breach of trust.
Rebble is an inspiring repair story, and the way Pebble enabled this second life is a path that every gadget manufacturer should strive to emulate. Pebble created an open (and open-source) environment for developers and enthusiasts. As a direct result, Rebble is saving thousands of gadgets from the bin and building a real community around dogged longevity. Keeping Pebbles running, in the face of much fancier options, knitted the community together. This should be a legal requirement. If a company wants to end the life of a cloud-connected product, they should be legally obliged to open up the code and tools necessary for third parties to keep the product alive.
Rwanda’s Mara Group has grand ambitions. The company hopes to help turn Rwanda into a regional tech hub, and it just got one step closer to completing that mission. This week, the company released two smartphones, earning Mara Group the title of the first smartphone manufacturer in Africa. If you know Rwanda’s recent history, you know just how monumental of an achievement this is.
The “surround screen” on the Alpha wraps entirely around the device to the point where it meets the camera module on the other side. The effect is of a phone that’s almost completely made of screen, with status icons like network signal and battery charge level displayed on the side. Pressure-sensitive volume buttons are also shown on the side of the phone. Xiaomi is claiming more than 180 percent screen-to-body ratio, a stat that no longer makes any sense to cite at all. Settings aside the obvious usability concerns associated with this design, I do have to say I can barely believe technology like this is now entering the market. This was the kind of stuff confined to science fiction not too long ago.
The iPad’s device-specific features have been advancing for years, and Apple is finally making the divergence official. Though the first version seems to still be iOS with some iPad-specific components (not all that different from previous versions of iOS on the iPad), presumably this release signals that in the future the iPad and iPhone versions of the OS will diverge more radically. Personally, I hope to see it iPad become more Mac-like, rather than seeing the Mac become more iPad-like. I’d love to see iPadOS evolve to the point that Apple would release an iPad Pro keyboard with a trackpad. Crucially, the iPadOS will be compatible with devices going back to the five-year-old iPad Air 2.
Obviously, the most notable aspect of the Chinese-made handset is the distinct lack of official access to Google apps and services. This is the first flagship to be released by Huawei since being blacklisted by the US government, therefore it is the first new release to explicitly come without access to common Google Play Services. Side-loading these services is likely to be possible but it is unclear just how this will be possible for most non-techie buyers. The Huawei Mate 30 Pro does come EMUI 10, which is based upon the recently released Android 10. Although, as expected, this build does not come with any Google apps. It will be interesting to see how well this handset will perform outside of China. I have my sincerest doubts.
We’ve recently seen Linux smartphones are coming in a few weeks or months, but the $150 PinePhone may not come alone, and soon be joined by a $25 companion, namely PineTime smartwatch. That’s what we learned through a tweet by Pine64 explaining the PineTime is a Linux smartphone companion that can run FreeRTOS or Arm Mbed operating systems. It will be a side-project however, and the focus is still on PinePhone and Pinebook Pro, meaning it will take a while depending on the level of community engagement. Thanks in part due to easy access to Chinese OEMs, there’s a lot of interesting working going in building and shipping consumer-oriented devices like smartphones and smartwatches running Linux that isn’t Android – which only a few short years ago would’ve required massive funding and seemed like pipe dreams. While these devices may not be as fast or polished as an Android device or iPhone, they are starting to form a viable option for people who truly value open source.
With the launch of the KaiOS Developer Portal, developers new to the platform have all of the tools they need to begin building and distributing apps for KaiOS. The guide can help you get a feel for things with sample code, there are instructions for setting up your development environment, and there’s an easy to set up simulator that lets you run your app virtually to ensure everything is working. KaiOS is used by more than 100 million people, so there’s definitely value in taking a look if you’re a mobile developer.
Understandably, given Fairphone’s focus on making a phone that’s sustainable rather than a portable powerhouse, the Fairphone 3’s specs aren’t competitive with other flagships we’ve seen this year. It’s got a 5.7-inch Full HD display, a 12-megapixel rear camera, and an 8-megapixel front-facing camera. Internally the phone is built around a Qualcomm Snapdragon 632 processor, and features 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. Its 3000 mAh battery might not be the biggest around, but it’s removable, allowing you to easily replace it if its capacity starts to degrade. The entire phone is made form recycled, conflict-free, and fair trade materials, and is remarkably repairable. Sustainability and repairability from a small company comes with a price tag, however – but at €450, it’s actually not that bad.
On paper, the reason for installing Aurora on the tablets is for carrying out Russia’s population consensus in 2020. A Huawei spokesperson confirmed that the company is currently holding talks with the Russian Ministry of Communications. Two sources at Reuters specified, “Huawei is interested in the project. It showed samples of tablets that could be used,” and, “This is a pilot project. We see it as the first stage of launching the Russian OS on Huawei devices.” Aurora is a Russia-specific version of Sailfish OS.
With Huawei’s P20 Pro last year and this year’s P30 Pro, the company pulled off some incredible camera innovations, at least in the photo department. In terms of recording video, it hasn’t done as much. Part of the reason for this is because the Kirin 970 and Kirin 980 chipsets don’t support recording video at 4K 60fps, a feature that you’d expect from such camera-centric smartphones. Luckily, that’s about to change with the next generation. While I was in Shenzhen for the past week, Huawei confirmed that the Kirin 990 will indeed support recording video at 4K 60fps. Starting with the Mate 30 series, you’ll no longer have to choose between a high resolution and a high frame rate. It’s incredible how fast Chinese companies manage to improve. If you ever wonder why the United States government is trying to hit Huawei so hard, it’s because of things like this. Aside from the possibly valid spying concerns, Huawei is simply also a major competitor to Silicon Valley, and this is a great way for American corporations/government to strike back. There aren’t many companies who can make every part of a device. Huawei is one of them.
It has been almost two years since Purism ended its Librem 5 crowdfunder, raising $2.1 million. Now the company has unveiled the final specifications for the device as well as an approximate launch date of Q3 2019. If you’re unfamiliar with the device, the Librem 5 runs PureOS, a fully free and open source operating system that is not based on Android or iOS. The Librem 5 is an incredibly ambitious device, and while the specifications are decidedly low range at this point, it has a number of privacy-oriented features that no other smartphone has, such as the baseband separated form the processor in a black box, hardware toggles for all wireless communications and the camera/microphone, and much more.
In an interview with a French magazine, Huawei’s CEO and founder, Ren Zhengfei, has stated that the homegrown HongmengOS will be faster than Android and will have a broader application as well. It can be used not only on smartphones but on routers, network switches, tablets, computers and even data centers. It will also be faster than macOS, he says. Nobody cares. No applications, no platform. Sadly, it’s as simple as that.
Bill Gates, in an interview for some venture capital firm’s event: You know, in the software world, in particular for platforms, these are winner-take-all markets. So, you know, the greatest mistake ever is the whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is, Android is the standard non-Apple phone form platform. That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win. It really is winner take all. If you’re there with half as many apps or 90% as many apps, you’re on your way to complete doom. There’s room for exactly one non-Apple operating system, and what’s that worth? $400 billion that would be transferred from company G to company M . It really sucks that consumer technology platforms always seem to settle on only two platforms, with everything else relegated to the sidelines. Windows Phone, Sailfish, webOS, and others all had great ideas that just don’t get a fair chance in the market, and from both a consumer’s and an enthusiast’s perspective, that is such a shame.
China’s Huawei has applied to trademark its “Hongmeng” operating system (OS) in at least nine countries and Europe, data from a U.N. body shows, in a sign it may be deploying a back-up plan in key markets as U.S. sanctions threaten its business model. If you need to make your own operating system in the current market, you’ve already lost. Huawei is in a very deep hole.
One of the key points of this case is that “In numerous cases Qualcomm threatened with a disruption of chipset supplies unless OEMs accepted its patent licensing terms, and there were various agreements under which OEMs paid a higher patent royalty when using third-party modem chips than Qualcomm’s products.” The judge found that “Qualcomm’s licensing practices have strangled competition in the CDMA and premium LTE modem chip markets for years, and harmed rivals, OEMs, and end consumers in the process.” As a remedy, Qualcomm is ordered to take several steps which will reduce the amount of power it holds over its customers and will need to renegotiate new license terms without the threats that had accompanied previous negotiations.
Last month, Verizon and AT&T made official something you’ve probably been aware of for a while: American smartphone owners are upgrading a lot less than they used to. In fact, they’re hitting record lows at the two biggest US carriers, with people apparently more content than ever to keep hold of their existing device. This is a global trend, as the smartphone market is reaching maturity and saturation in many developed nations, and yet it’s most pronounced in the United States for a few reasons particular to the country. The article focuses on the United States, but correctly points out this is a global trend in the developed world. Not only are phones quite expensive, they have also been more than good enough for quite a few years now, and there’s very little in the sense of revolutionary progress being made form generation to generation. Earlier this year, I dropped my OnePlus 6T on a sharp rocky edge, and it broke the glass back. I sent it in for repairs – €40, not bad – and while it was being repaired, I dusted off my old Nexus 6P and used it instead. I was surprised by just how perfectly fine and usable it was – sure, it was a little slower here and there, the screen isn’t as nice, those sorts of things, but as a whole, if I hadn’t had the 6T to compare it to, I would be none the wiser. It makes perfect sense for general consumers to stick with their expensive phones for longer, especially now that the market has pretty much saturated.
Silicon Valley’s favorite mantra goes “Fail often, fail fast.” It captures the tech industry’s long history of dismantled startups, lost jobs, demoralization, and bankruptcy. One casualty was General Magic, an offshoot of Apple that strove to develop the next level in personal computing: a handheld computer. At the time they considered the project an advanced PDA, but today we’d recognize it as a smartphone. Before the iPhone, General Magic created the operating system for the Sony Magic Link in 1994. Sandy Kerruish and Matt Maude’s new documentary General Magic details the colossal failure that ensued. Apple, Microsoft, General Magic, and Palm were all working on PDAs at the time. Only one of them succeeded.
As I mentioned, none of the native API of PalmOS 5.x was ever documented. There was a small number of people who figured out some parts of it, but nobody really got it all, or even close to it. To start with, because large parts are not useful to an app developer, and thus attracted no interest. This is a problem, however, if one wants to make a new device. So I had to actually do a lot of reverse engineering for this project – a lot of boring reverse engineering of very boring APIs that I still had to implement. Oh, and I needed a kernel, and actual hardware to run on. I’m in awe. This is nothing short of breathtaking.
Lying on a church pew with his arm over his head, 6-year-old Gordon Andindagaye whimpered a bit — in fear, not pain — as Dr. William A. Cherniak slowly swept a small ultrasound scanner up and down his chest. Dr. Cherniak and Rodgers Ssekawoko Muhumuza, the Ugandan clinical officer he was training, stared at the iPhone into which the scanner was plugged, watching Gordon’s lung expand and contract. “O.K.,” Dr. Cherniak finally said. “What do you recommend?” Here in the west it’s easy to grow cynical towards smartphones and technology, but the impact phones and smartphones having in third world countries – which often skip desktops and laptops – is astounding.