Will Phosh remain the favorite mobile Linux interface?

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%
Silica (SailfishOS) 1 3%
Glacier (Nemo Mobile) 0 0%
Luna Next (LuneOS) 0 0%
Mate (postmarketOS or AVMultiPhone) 0 0%
Android (GloDroid) 2 5%
Other (XFCE, LXDE, JWM, OpenBox, i3wm, Kodi, Sway, Sxmo, command line, etc.) 9 24%
Total voters 37

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
Mobian (Phosh) 11 37%
Sxmo (Suckless buttons) 6 21%
PureOS (Phosh) 4 13%
Manjaro (Phosh) 3 10%
Manjaro (Plasma Mobile) 3 10%
Manjaro (Lomiri) 2 7%
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 (Phosh) 1 3%
postmarketOS (Plasma Mobile) 1 3%
Total votes 38
Total voters 30 100%
Interface Votes % of voters Notes
Phosh 20 67%
Suckless buttons 6 20%
Plasma Mobile 5 17%
Lomiri 4 10% (4 votes from 3 voters)
Silica 2 7%
Luna Next 1 3%
Distros Votes % of voters
Mobian 11 37%
Manjaro 8 27%
Sxmo 6 20%
PureOS 4 13%
Ubuntu Touch 2 7%
Arch Linux 1 3%
KDE Neon 1 3%
LuneOS 1 3%

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.

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I hope that mobile Linux will standardize on one set of administration tools and one interface, because that will make it much easier to grow into a mainstream option for normal users and attract app developers. At this point, it looks like that is happening with Debian tools and the Phosh interface, but a lot depends on mobile Linux getting adopted by big phone manufacturers. Of the big phone makers, Sony and OnePlus are the most likely in my opinion to take a chance with mobile Linux.

I see two possibilities for a big phone manufacturer to adopt mobile Linux. If it decides that it wants hardware kill switches, the only realistic option is either the RK3566 or RK3588, since there is nothing else competitive in my opinion. NXP’s i.MX 8M Plus simply doesn’t compete in terms of CPU performance because it lacks any Cortex-A7x cores.

However, I think it is more likely that a big phone manufacturer will use an integrated mobile SoC, like a Snapdragon, Helios or Exynos, and that virtually guarantees that it will run on Android drivers with libhybris. That means that Plasma Mobile and Phosh will be excluded because they don’t support libhybris. I can’t see any of the big phone makers touching Ubuntu Touch because its volunteers can’t provide real support, and no phone manufacturer wants to maintain UT’s code. Because Samsung no longer is developing Tizen for mobile phones and Samsung’s Flora license is problematic, I don’t see Tizen as a realistic option (except for Samsung). Maybe LG will decide to pour money into updating WebOS to make it a competitive phone OS, but I can’t see any other company adopting it. Therefore, I think that Sailfish OS will win by default with the big phone manufacturers, but that will limit its appeal to people who care about free software. I would hate for the proprietary Silica interface in Sailfish OS become the way that mobile Linux reaches the mainstream market.

Whether Phosh and Plasma Mobile have a chance with the major phone manufacturers depends on whether the mobile SoC makers (Qualcomm, Samsung, MediaTek, UNISOC, etc.) decide to support Linux drivers like they currently support Android drivers. Maybe Plasma Mobile will decide to reverse its decision and keep supporting libhybris. Maybe Phosh will add support for libhybris. While I hate the idea of using Android drivers, because the problems that they cause with updating the Linux kernel, they seem like a necessary evil if we want mobile Linux to reach the mainstream.

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(I hope that this question is not too tangential) I know that you don’t work for Purism, but maybe you have insight into these two questions:

  1. When GTK 4 is incorporated into Phosh, what sort of performance/speed improvements and/or interface tweaks can be expected?

  2. Do you have any expectations when Phosh with GTK 4 will be released?

Thanks so much for all that you do for this community. Your L5 FAQ is amazing.

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I think a correction needs to be made here to clarify that it goes about new liberated devices, eg. those boasting mainline (or at least sustainable oot patchset) linux support and not relying on hybris (and android bsp). Because if you take mobile linux in general (including jolla phones and ub phones) I think statistic will slightly differ,

For interface tweaks, see GTK 4.0 improvements and GNOME 40 improvements. The performance/speed improvements will depend on the GPU hardware, so I would expect a big improvement with the GC7000Lite in the Librem 5, but a much smaller improvement with the Mali-400 MP2 in the PinePhone. See the glmark2 benchmarks for the two phones.

GTK 4.0 was released with Vulkan hardware acceleration in December 2020, but the Entaviv drivers in the Librem 5 don’t support Vulkan, and OpenGL acceleration in GTK4 still needs some work. I have updated the FAQ to better explain the situation with hardware acceleration: https://source.puri.sm/Librem5/community-wiki/-/wikis/Frequently-Asked-Questions#312-does-the-librem-5-provide-hardware-acceleration

I have no idea when GTK4 hardware acceleration will be added to Phosh. Maybe @dos can provide us with more info, but you should ask Guido Gunther.

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GTK4 can’t be used in Phosh in its current shape - although things appear to be progressing upstream to make it possible. See https://gitlab.gnome.org/GNOME/gtk/-/issues/2132

That said, there’s no huge benefit to reap performance-wise just by porting Phosh to GTK4. Phosh doesn’t render that much itself, so you’ll get a smoother app list scrolling and that’s pretty much it. However, GTK4 will allow to easily implement some stuff that we simply didn’t bother implementing with GTK3 because it just makes it so much harder to do in a reasonable and performant way (an example from what I personally worked on would be live previews in the app switcher).

What most users actually want to happen in order to make the whole experience smoother is applications using GTK4 (and GTK4 being performant on mobile GPUs, which wasn’t the case so far but there’s some work on it ongoing as well).

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Yes, I’m talking about new phones using Linux drivers, not Android drivers. I guess if you consider KaiOS to be a Linux phone, then over 100 million of those have been sold, but they are using Bionic (instead of libc) and Android drivers.

The PinePhone Community Edition: UBports sold between 3500 and 4000 devices, according to one of the UBports monthly updates, and the PinePhone is currently in its fifth community edition, so I would guesstimate that roughly 20k PinePhones have been ordered, and that number is going to keep growing. Add in another 5k-10k for the Librem 5.

In contrast, Marius Gripsgard, the founder of UBports, estimated on Reddit that there were 5000 devices running Ubuntu Touch before the release of the PinePhone, so there aren’t that many old BQ, Meizu and Nexus devices still running UT. I assume that almost all of the Firefox OS phones sold in 2013-14 have been junked. There are probably a couple thousand people who have installed Sailfish OS on their phones (Xperia X/XA2/10, Fairphone 2, Gemini PDA, etc.). There are probably a couple thousand people who are still using the Nokia N900, which was released in 2009.

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This question couldn’t be more timely. Today, pine64 announced that all future pinephones will ship with Manjaro with Plasma Mobile.

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I tried a few distros with Plasma on Pinephone, but didn’t like it as much as Phosh.

I tried Phosh on a handful of distros (not PureOS, unfortunately), but liked Mobian best. Manjaro was really smooth, but I am way more facile with Debian-based distros… and Mobian has more apps and a faster development pace.

I’d vote in @amosbatto 's poll, but I just don’t grok Pine’s forum. :face_vomiting:

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I can’t exactly vote on any of the polls, but I’m all for Plasma Mobile. Mainly because I’ve been a KDE fanboy since 2005.

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Good, I’d really like to see some improvements on plasma. Hoping that focusing on that will garner greater interest