I conducted a poll on the PINE64 forum back in August 2020 about what interface(s) people were using on the PinePhone. I was surprised by the large percentage of people who were using Phosh on the PinePhone:
Which interface(s) do you use on the PinePhone?
|Interface||Votes||% of voters|
|Phosh (postmarketOS, Mobian, Fedora, openSUSE, NixOS, Arch, Manjaro, Gentoo or PureOS)||26||70%|
|Lomiri (Ubuntu Touch or Manjaro)||10||27%|
|Plasma Mobile (postmarketOS, KDE Neon or Manjaro)||6||16%|
|Hildon (Maemo Leste)||1||3%|
|Glacier (Nemo Mobile)||0||0%|
|Luna Next (LuneOS)||0||0%|
|Mate (postmarketOS or AVMultiPhone)||0||0%|
|Other (XFCE, LXDE, JWM, OpenBox, i3wm, Kodi, Sway, Sxmo, command line, etc.)||9||24%|
I struck me that this was a poor poll, because 3 of the 5 PinePhone Community Editions had Phosh preinstalled, so many people were likely to have used Phosh because it was preinstalled, but it may not be the interface that they prefer. Also, there was a large number of votes for “Other”, and I wondered what people were voting for.
Therefore, I conducted the poll again, asking people to select their favorite distro+interface with 35 different options. Once again Phosh overwhelmingly dominated:
What is your favorite distro+interface for the PinePhone?
|Distro + Interface||Votes||% of voters|
|Sxmo (Suckless buttons)||6||21%|
|Manjaro (Plasma Mobile)||3||10%|
|Sailfish OS (Silica)||2||7%|
|Ubuntu Touch (Lomiri)||2||7%|
|Arch Linux (Phosh)||1||3%|
|KDE Neon (Plasma Mobile)||1||3%|
|LuneOS (Luna Next)||1||3%|
|postmarketOS (Plasma Mobile)||1||3%|
|Interface||Votes||% of voters||Notes|
|Lomiri||4||10%||(4 votes from 3 voters)|
|Distros||Votes||% of voters|
This poll shows that the first poll wasn’t a fluke. 3 of the first 4 favorite distros+interfaces are based on Phosh. I would like to see a larger number of voters, but it is clear that Phosh is currently dominating mobile Linux.
I see a lot of advantages of Phosh over the alternatives. Phosh has been packaged in Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, openSUSE, Arch and Manjaro, and most of the desktop Linux distros in the world are derivatives of one of those distros. Slackware and Gentoo still don’t have Phosh packages, but it is probably only a matter of time, because any distro that already has GTK and GNOME can easily incorporate Phosh, because it was designed to use the existing GTK/GNOME libraries, and doesn’t need a special mobile software stack, like the other mobile Linux interfaces.
Phosh is the only interface with substantial corporate backing. Not only does Purism pay developers to work on Phosh, IBM/Red Hat, SUSE, Canonical and Google all pay developers to work on the GTK/GNOME libraries and applications used by Phosh. In contrast, none of the other mobile Linux interfaces have much corporate backing except Sailfish OS which is developed by Jolla, but its proprietary Silica interface makes it unlikely that it will ever be widely adopted. Plasma Mobile, which has been in development since July 2015, has no corporate support, aside from a few paid developers contributed by Blue Systems, and most of the major Linux companies do very little to help KDE, except the Qt Company, which provides the underlying toolkit.
However, I see both KDE Plasma Mobile and UBports taking steps that could help them in the future. KDE Plasma Mobile recently decided to drop Halium (which includes libhybris and the use of Android drivers), so it will be much easier to incorporate Plasma Mobile into existing Linux distros in the future. At this point, Plasma Mobile is now available in 5 distros (KDE Neon, Manjaro ARM, openSUSE Tumbleweed, postmarketOS, OpenMandriva Lx), but I expect many distros will adopt Plasma Mobile in the future once it drops Halium, just like Phosh has been widely adopted. In addition, Plasma Mobile plans to support GTK apps, Sailfish OS apps, Ubuntu Touch apps, and Android apps. So far, one of Phosh’s key advantages over Plasma Mobile has been that it supports both Qt and GTK apps, but that will change in the future.
UBports has also been breaking out of its silo, by working to adapt the Ubuntu Touch code so it no longer requires libhybris. The Ubuntu Touch port for the PinePhone and PineTab uses standard Linux drivers, instead of Android drivers. In addition, UBports has been working to get its Unity 8 interface, which was renamed as Lomiri, packaged in both Debian and Manjaro. UBports has struggled to maintain its siloed codebase and is still updating the Ubuntu Touch code to use a newer version of Qt, that still recieves security updates, but I forsee Lomiri getting packaged in a lot Linux distros in the future.
So far, it seems like Phosh has been winning by default, because it is easy to incorporate into existing distros, and its development is ahead of Plasma Mobile. However, I wonder what will happen when both Plasma Mobile and Lomiri get adopted by most of the major Linux distros and Plasma Mobile gets more polished. Will Phosh still be able to maintain its current position as the leading mobile Linux interface?
I see a bright future for both the PinePhone and Librem 5, since both phones are aiming to be fully supported by mainline Linux and all the major distros are adopting mobile Linux interfaces. What that means is that it should be possible to install your favorite desktop distro on both phones in the future. At this point, the PinePhone and Librem 5 are the only Linux phones that are designed to use standard Linux drivers (rather than Android drivers through libhybris). However, it seems likely that we will see more mobile devices that run on standard Linux in the future, and we will have the choice of many mobile interfaces (Phosh, Plasma Mobile and Lomiri) and all of them are designed around the concept of convergence. Yes, the future looks bright for mobile Linux, but I wonder if there will be one standard mobile Linux based on Phosh, or three competing mobile Linux interfaces that hold equal market share.