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.
Are you constantly annoyed that your smartphone battery dies before the rest of the phone? Angry about the wastage that creates? Well, leaked EU proposals could force smartphone manufacturers to to make all batteries removable. That would mean that all brands wanting to sell in the EU would have to make sure each phone has a battery that can be removed by the user – and that even would include Apple, the company most resistant to legislation around its iPhone designs, if attempts to make it change ports in the past is anything to go by. This makes perfect sense. People are keeping their phones for longer and longer, so the ability to easily and quickly replace the battery is a big boon.
Why a rotary cellphone? Because in a finicky, annoying, touchscreen world of hyperconnected people using phones they have no control over or understanding of, I wanted something that would be entirely mine, personal, and absolutely tactile, while also giving me an excuse for not texting. The point isn’t to be anachronistic. It’s to show that it’s possible to have a perfectly usable phone that goes as far from having a touchscreen as I can imagine, and which in some ways may actually be more functional. Genius.
Of course, AT&T wasn’t the company that ended up bringing us most of the tech predicted in the “You Will” ads. But it did bring that tablet device to market. It’s called the EO Personal Communicator 440, and while not the first mass-manufactured tablet computer — that honor goes to the GRiDPad, a device sold by Radio Shack’s corporate parent Tandy — the EO is generally considered one of the first tablets with mobile connectivity. Released by AT&T in 1993, not long after the telecom giant bought a majority stake in its maker EO, it was a tantalizing glance into the future. Any article on the EO is an article I will post – I’m a simple man – but that website’s fonts and font colours give me a headache.
EU lawmakers overwhelmingly called on Thursday for rules to establish a common charger for all mobile device makers across Europe, a drive that iPhone maker Apple has criticised. Members of the European Parliament voted by 582-40 for a resolution urging the European Commission, which drafts EU laws, to ensure that EU consumers are no longer obliged to buy new chargers with each new device. This story is a case of government regulation done extremely well. This whole process started with a voluntary agreement in the industry to standardise on one charger and port, and if they failed, the EU would step in and enforce it by law. This agreement has worked out quite well – first micro USB, now USB-C. However, one popular phone maker decided to not adhere to the agreement, and so, more than ten years after the agreement, and thus ample time for this phone maker to follow suit, the EU will now have to step in. Apple has already moved all of its devices to USB-C, save for one – the iPhone. Now they won’t have much of a choice but to follow along. Much like with RoHS, the rest of the world has only benefited from this push for a charging standard, as anyone who remembers the feature phone and PDA days can only attest to (you should see my mutually incompatible collection of just PDA chargers – I must have dozens of them!). And no, this won’t stifle innovation. This whole process is done in collaboration with the industry and standards bodies, so if newer options come along that the sector wants to standardise on, they can – just as they did with the move from micro USB to USB-C. Apple will just have to suck it up – maybe while they’re at it, they can finally make a charging cable that doesn’t suck?
I wonder about the approach Purism took with the Librem 5. The company chose to do everything all at once by building a new smartphone OS and a new hardware supply chain. For a customer receiving a Librem 5 today, you’re getting an unfinished operating system and rough, gen-one open source hardware. That’s a bunch of compromises to accept for $750. A more reserved approach would have been to build an open source GNU/Linux-based OS on closed source hardware first and then make the difficult jump to custom hardware when the OS was in a more complete state. The Librem 5 is a tough sell, even for people who value the open source nature of the device. That’s simply too much money for such an outdated, unfinished device.
Pine64 has announced that it is finally shipping the PinePhone, a smartphone that takes the rare step outside the Android/iOS duopoly and is designed to run mainline Linux distributions. The PinePhone starts shipping January 17 in the “Braveheart” developer edition. An interesting device for sure, and the dip switches on the motherboard that act has hardware kill switches for things like the microphone and camera are pretty neat. I do take issue with the “Linux-powered” as if that’s some unique quality or anything. Save for the odd iPhone, every single smartphone in the world runs Linux. Maybe not in a form that adheres to your no true Scotsman idea of Linux, but 100% Linux nonetheless.
We’ve included many reliability improvements in Nuuksio especially targeting Email, Calendar synchronisation and VPN settings. In addition to reliability improvements, the Email app now has enhanced support for handling HTML formatted messages. Audio routing for Android apps has been improved on Android app support 8.1, fixing issues with applications such as WhatsApp calls and Youtube. The operating system now supports hardware MPEG2, VP9 and h.265/HEVC video decoding (the exact support depends on the device). The detailed release notes are also available.
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.