Will the Librem 5 be a white elephant or the first in a wave?


#4

Again, @amosbatto great informative post. Suggestion: make it a poll and come back to it in five years or so…? We’ll see how wro… right we were :slight_smile:

Regarding @maximilian’s reply, I think it’s absolutely crucial that there is an ecosystem of manufacturers that have Linux systems available. It’s not just about app ecosystem. Choices are needed but also, different approaches bring new ideas - development. Some will work, others will not. Not all ideas will or should or need be adopted, but they may be a stepping stone at some later point.

I noticed that in the original post it was actually left blank, which are/is the L5 features. (edit: sorry, they were hidden within the list) Got me thinking. We have the lists of course (as vague as the features were in the beginning), but most of those are not especially new. Most are “just” made in a special way - open, verifiable. Not to take anything away from L5 or anyone else, but as there have already been Linux phones and projects (Maemo included, and Ubuntu worked etc.), I’d see Purism - and don’t kill me here - closer to early Apple than an actual innovator, as they took known stuff and developed and polished the whole experience a couple of notches above what had been previously seen (and remember, the first tries weren’t what they became - and even still, as most have same or better tech features, the experience is not the same).

Thus, I see a possibility that L5 could give some early indication of what a future standard in “owning your phone” could look like. Much like Apple set a path to usability/experience. And in this, I come back to L5 maybe not having a specific feature that may or may not last or get copied. Even the three off-switches themselves may not be that important - those may evolve (there are already examples of variations of those by others) to one, two or four and their functionality change. “Secure” or “FOSS” or “sustainable” have different variations - and overlap - available too. Which is why I chose “owning” as the main “feature” of L5, and agree it is intentionally a bit vague and abstract, concept.

As a side note, it would have been interesting if HTC would have chosen to go fully open (and secure) to counter perception and sanctions. Too bad that they still try to hang on to an old troubling (privacy-wise) market and not cater to a possibly burgeoning new segment. Well, many other things in that whole mess, so not mostly relevant.

Also, I don’t see L5 as only a Linux or FOSS phone, but the aforementioned overlap is also with other manufacturers that cater to secure communications boffins. These are often the early adopters that lay the groundwork for future de facto reguirements. In these scaled situations though, I remind of John Sowa’s “law”: “Whenever a major organization develops a new system as an official standard for X, the primary result is the widespread adoption of some simpler system as a de facto standard for X.” The likely outcome that I see is that, yes, “owning”, “privacy” and “security” will increase but not to the intended level in the larger population. Something will be absorbed to the industry.

Lastly, I think trust is a major factor. If L5’s “features” or concept is to propagate, with the larger masses (or even with many in this group of early adopters), there needs to be authorities, instances and organizations that have endorsed them. Most will not dig deep - they trust. With the Apple example, the “authority” was hipsters that were thought to have “taste and understanding of fresh” (as opposed to previous, more engineer based approach - a simplification for sure). Their example was followed. So, if active and influential groups endorse these features and says they are worth the trouble of learning something new (ROI principle: expected return on invested time/work/resource to make the change), L5’s example has a chance. There is, of course, competition on the field.

All in all, I think L5 is not going to be the most shining spot in history that everybody remembers. It’s not going to be the one that changed industry, even though it seems to have all the right parts. With Apple I’d say it was the next models that really took off. And Purism might not be Apple - it could be Nokia, which had tested touchscreens and other features years earlier but hadn’t gotten it to the needed point. Yes, L5 might be too early for mainstream. But I also think it will push that boundary and move this from “very early adopters” and closer to “early adopters” territory.

(edit to add: Only later we’ll be able to say what was the “main thing” that we identify as the L5 defining feature. One option could be that it will become known for it’s convergence desktop experience - “finally a phone that works as a computer and has support” [edit: “a phone that has enough juice and good enough camera etc. - is not lacking in anything” ]. And all the rest - security and privacy and long lifetime - are more of “bonus features” than the main attraction.)


#5

With this overheating problem the L5 has and not much communication on the issue from purism it looks like a crapshoot on whether it will even be released anytime soon .

I didnt know the thing was throttling to 1% under heavy load. that doesnt sound like a ready to ship product to me.


#6

My prediction is that the Librem 5 won’t die, and it won’t be remembered as a white elephant (like OpenMoko, Ubuntu Edge and Firefox OS), because it will keep producing despite the odds, and keep demonstrating the validity of its ideas. Because Purism isn’t following the typical startup model of trying to get a bunch of venture capital and blowing up as the next big thing, it is unlike to spectacularly implode like Essential, Dakele, LeEco and so many other “innovative” phone makers have done.

Purism can keep surviving just like Fairphone and SHIFT have done, despite being tiny companies that have only produced 175k and 30k phones, respectively, because Purism is largely self-funding and the people who buy its products are passionate about its goals, so they will keep supporting it even when the company runs into difficulties. I doubt that many people will cancel their Librem 5 pre-orders just because the company’s CTO shows the phone overheating during a presentation, whereas Samsung would lose millions of dollars in orders if it did the same thing.

What I predict is that the Librem5 v1 will make a moderate splash in the tech world when it is first released, simply because it so unique, but it will also get a lot of negative reviews and the conventional wisdom will dismiss it as irrelevant and the next thing to fail. But people who care about privacy, security, planned obsolescence, digital rights and software freedom will keep loyally buying the phone and the software will improve and the number of apps will grow over time.

In a year or two, I can see both Fairphone and SHIFT announcing that they will offer Linux as an alternative OS. At some point, both of those companies are likely to shift completely to Linux, because it makes so much sense from a sustainability point of view. If you want your phone to last 10 years, Linux is the best option, and the easiest and cheapest way to do it, whereas trying to meet Google’s requirements for upgrading Android is a Herculean task and very expensive.

Then, I foresee companies like Sony and OpenPlus, which have a history of being more friendly to Open Source, deciding to unofficially support Linux, and at some point one of them is going to start selling models with Linux as an experiment. One of the major phone makers is going to realize the business potential of hardware kill switches. They are going to look at the Librem 5 specs and say, “wow, look at the prices we can charge for low-end hardware.”

I predict that Linux phones based on respecting people’s privacy will become a niche in the market, just like rugged phones and gaming phones, but I really hope that the niche that Librem 5 is trying to create will be much larger than the one that Fairphone and SHIFT have been able to create for ethical and sustainable phones.

One thing that I like is the fact that Purism has a global strategy, unlike Fairphone and SHIFT, and is willing to ship world-wide. I know that Purism has been criticized on this forum for this world-wide strategy, because it won’t try to certify the Librem 5 for different networks, but the benefit is that Purism will reach early adopters all over the world.

The final thought that I have is that different innovations in the Librem 5 will have different degrees of success:

  • Linux might become the next mobile OS to challenge the duopoly of Android and iOS, but it will grow slowly at the beginning and won’t seem viable to most people until it suddenly is seen as the hottest thing in the industry. I see a very compelling business case for phone makers to prefer mobile Linux over Android, but it won’t make sense until the software support and the number of available apps gets to a certain point.
  • Hardware kill switches, OpenPGP smart cards and 100% free software are expensive to implement, so I think that they will never be more than niches, but they could be sustained niches that people are willing to pay for.
  • Convergence is another area that will probably blow up in the future, but I can’t see most people choosing the Linux desktop over an iOS/MacOS and Android/ChromeOS/Fuchsia desktop.

The more important point in my opinion is that mobile Linux and Purism’s actions will scare Google and Apple and force them to start respecting user rights in ways that they currently don’t. It will also give government regulators an example to point to when they start putting restrictions on surveillance Capitalism. Maybe this is wishful thinking on my part, but I see a possible future where the Librem 5 could change the mobile industry as a whole, and not just be an oddball experiment that gets ignored and dismissed.


#7

I like your optimism :slight_smile: But yes, showing that “it can be done” just might be what is needed in that front. I have an affection to “curveballs” (as in, how stuff gets pushed from unexpected directions) and come back to the lifecycle discussion we had: sustainability argument might become a viable and compelling reason (official and global one anyway) to curtail unwanted data transmissions and thus lower power consumption in networks and serverfarms.


#8

Yep. This far in the process , not to have this resolved is troubling in the least. I don’t know what to think.

And their most recent application development chart on the website “news and events” a also found disappointing.
Apparently ,image viewer, PDF editor, podcast and calculator are polished yet. IDK , but if you have a very fee basic apps, try to make them completely ready at launch.


#9

Unfortunately, this phone is not riding on any wave the would make a splash.
If you saw the conference with Nicole, the hurdle to get through is mountains on top of mountains and once you get over it, you end up with less than mediocre and borderline outdated hardware. People are still into latest and greatest.
Majority of the people don’t really care about privacy neither. It’s not attractive for big business and not attractive enough for consumers -“Give me convenience or death.”
As much as I want to be optimistic, these phones will remain a niche with way smaller market than Linux laptops have. Why? Way more hoops to jump for much more costly product.


#10

I think the app store and the ability to maintain habits with Android and iOS can convince some people outside the Linux world: by this I mean that a smartphone is not usually used as a computer where you spend a lot of time from switching to Windows/Linux or Mac OS.
In smartphone world, people don’t fear to change from HTC to Huawei, even if the launcher is different. The most important is the app world. Somebody to convince needs a Signal, a Silence, an app for the Bank, a good Browser with Webextensions, an app to play videos, a good public transport app, a good Navi app, etc.

If you can provide this kind of apps + privacy, you can convince people to change to PureOS, because, they don’t have to make many efforts.

A few years ago, I was curious to discover the world of Windows Phone, and I really liked the software UI. But, I had to come back to Android because I could not have the main public transport of my country available in the MS store, same for the lack of Google Maps-like (Here Maps was not so accurate in terms of ETA/traffic timing), same for the Bank app (not available), same for the Browser, etc. I had to accept “with this smartphone, there is no X, there is no Y, and there is no Z”, and then it become “there is no Windows Phone”.


#11

So then ZTE has fan-cooled phone. That is news to me.


#12

Who knows? Many people are merely sheep, following the herd. Phone users frequently put up with problems such as Google tracking, software problems with delayed updates as well as the recent malware for iPhones which could, at least until rebooting, control most any function remotely for purposes of data acquisition/manipulation. Many still accept Apple, Google or Amazon listening into smart speakers.
Those who appreciate more potential for control will want something like the Librem 5. There are implementations such as Blackphone already, though this also requires subscription to the service for the encoding of the supposed invulnerable encryption. Some other both small-player secure and business-oriented phones are in operation or under development, these mostly for large firms or high-security enterprises and will not likely make it to general consumer use.
There may be some market for those burned by Android or IOS, but we will have to see.


#13

Exactly. Windows phone was great and way smoother than Android at the time, but poor App Ecosystem killed it.
Based on what we know now, about the apps for L5 and their functionality, heavy users won’t be able to have it as a daily driver for a long time. I would still need to carry my old phone.


#14

Public corporations have a fiduciary responsibility to shareholders. If a company can make more money by abandoning a niche market, then they are required to under threat of lawsuits from shareholders. This is why you get the wave or abandon phenomenon. If it does not catch on, then there has to be a market that can support the quantity that the company can scale for. Sometimes, smaller companies can build niche products that larger companies cannot. The management structures of large companies can be too inefficient at handling small volumes (no ROI because their I is too expensive for them). Companies often abandon parts of the market that they used to serve as they become larger because companies demand higher efficiency as they get larger. This higher efficiency translates to more regimented processes. For example, increased automation makes personal requests more difficult. Private companies have more flexibility. A special purpose corporation, like Purism, can maintain focus.


#15

The fundamental difference is that there was no compelling reason to use Windows Pocket PC -> Mobile -> Phone -> 10 Mobile, rather than Android or iOS. The killer feature was supposed to be convergence, but Microsoft never made it work very well. For people trying to decide between these morally-dubious corporations, there was no reason to select a Windows phone over an Android or iOS one, so the lack of millions of apps was the deciding factor.

In contrast, there are very compelling reasons for people to prefer mobile Linux, especially if it comes from a company which is committed to providing security, privacy, respect for user rights, software freedom, open hardware, avoiding planned obsolescence and convergence as a PC.

Obviously the Librem 5 will be a niche product at first for people who care passionately about one of those issues. I care a lot about the environmental impact of manufacturing electronics, so I’m willing to pay any price and endure any inconvenience to get a phone which promises “lifetime support.” There are a lot of niche users like me for whom the Librem 5 provides a unique feature like end-to-end encryption based an OpenPGP identity, Linux security, being able to shut off all the spying hardware, commitment to software freedom, being able to change the M.2 card to play with other radio frequencies, being able install UBports, etc.

However, in a couple years mobile Linux will have enough of the software that most people need, that it will start becoming compelling for the average user. There are millions of people who would like to have a phone that doesn’t force them to be pawns of surveillance Capitalism, hate being locked out their own hardware, and don’t want to throw away their phones every couple years. I doubt that my parents have installed more than 5 apps from the Google Play Store on their phones, and there are millions of people like them.

In addition, Linux offers a lot of compelling advantages for the phone makers, since it means they can avoid the onerous burdens of Google which prevents them from customizing their devices and distinguishing themselves from their competitors so their devices get commoditized. Most phone makers (LG, Sony, Lenovo/Motorola, HTC, ZTE and TCL) lose money on every phone that they sell. In 2016, the companies that weren’t one of the top 5 (Samsung, Apple, Huawei, Oppo & Vivo) lost an average of $4.8 per phone. For these companies, mobile Linux would allow them to avoid the commodity trap of Android. These companies don’t like Google any more than we do.


#16

Please don’t throw me under the bus for this hypothesis, just trying to bring this up because I’d really want the Pure OS and Purism concept to become mainstream.

If not considered yet, how about Purism teaming up with HMD Global https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMD_Global? Having access to patents and Nokia backbone, global production and distribution networks, well known branding, well skilled employees, open source and Linux based OS experience, strategic partners et cetera the HMD company could benefit from bringing ‘mainstream’ Pure OS based devices to the market. Their current Android shell mediocre Nokia branded line up to me does not seem to be holding up too well and hardly differentiating. To become a big player that really matters again, embracing Pure OS as their OS might be just the stepping stone to achieve that. In fact such a partnership could be a ticket to ensure worldwide pr, easy customer acceptance of reliable products and acknowledgement of Pure OS and be amongst the three app stores.


#17

Maybe HMD Global will consider mobile Linux for their feature phones where people don’t expect to download and install many apps. Right now HMD Global is using KaiOS (a proprietary fork of FirefoxOS) for its Nokia 8110 4G.

However, HMD Global seems to be following the business model of pumping out as many models as fast as possible, and providing poor software support for them. It’s only relation to the company Nokia is that it licensed the right to use the Nokia brand name on phones, but HMD Global doesn’t have access to Nokia’s patents or employees. At any rate, Nokia has been hollowed out and it only focuses on networking equipment, so most of that rich knowledge and experience has been lost.

Sony is a good candidate because it publishes AOSP versions of its phones and currently offers Sailfish OS for the Xperia X and XA, so it is open to trying another OS. OnePlus offered Cyanogen OS (an Android derivative) on the OnePlus One and it sends its phones in development to the modder communities, so that LineageOS and other mods work on its phones.


#18

Sony is definitely the biggest loser among Android AOSP, after HTC I think. There is definitely hope there. With that being said, none of these huge corporations is interested in making a product with less than medicre hardware that can’t compete with the rest. What I’m saying is that if they were to opt for Linux at one point, it won’t be teaming up Purisn, because FOSS & all security stuff is not a priority. for their business model. If interested in privacy and security, all focus would be on software, not hardware.


#19

2019 - AI learns to play Snake :smiley:


#20

i swear the screen is looking at ME :wink:


#21

I agree that they won’t team up with Purism. They will simply use its code. The great thing about free software is that it brings in companies, who may not have an ethical commitment, but for practical reasons they end up contributing, because the license forces them. Its cheaper to use Chatty and Calls with a GPL3+ license than develop their own apps.

Companies care about security and privacy when they see a market for it. Apple decided that it could market the iPhone based on security and privacy, and Google is now trying to convince everyone that cares about those issues too. The problem is that Apple and Google can only offer ersatz versions of the security and privacy that Purism can offer.

Most phone makers don’t like being under Google’s thumb, and Linux offers them a way to escape, but they will have to see people buying the Librem 5 and PinePhone, and thousands of apps being added, before they risk their business on mobile Linux.

It won’t happen overnight, but there are solid reasons for optimism, when we consider all the benefits to the phone makers:

  1. No licensing fees for Google Web Services.
  2. No requirement to install Google’s spyware on their phones.
  3. No onerous certification process by the Open Handset Alliance.
  4. Much lower costs to perform upgrades, since they don’t have to pass any compatibility tests. It cost Fairphone €500,000 just to upgrade to Android 7 because of Google’s onerous certification requirements.
  5. No more restrictions that prevent them from customizing their software so they can distinguish themselves from their competitors and avoid the commodity trap.
  6. The goal of Google is to keep driving down the prices of smartphones at the low end of the market, so that more and more people can afford them and Google can collect data on the other half of the planet that doesn’t currently own a smartphone.

The inability to customize causes the commodification of Android phones and Google’s efforts to keep inviting in more and more competitors in order to drive down prices have driven profits out of the industry. Linux solves many problems for the phone companies. It just has to get good enough that the phone companies are willing to start offering a few Linux models as an experiment. Even if Linux just gets 5% of market share, it will scare the dickens out of Google, and Google will be forced to respond with better policies toward the privacy of its users. The regulators will look at mobile Linux and start asking why Google can’t provide better user rights to privacy.

Maybe I’m a dreamer, but I see a path for Purism to reform the tech industry, which is one of the goals of the company. What I know for sure is that we are guaranteed to end up in a very bad place as a society if nobody tries to stop what is happening right now with surveillance Capitalism. Lots of people are disturbed by it, but they don’t have a convenient way to avoid it, so they simply accept it. If people have a viable alternative, we might be surprised how many people will choose the alternative.


#22

I nominate this sentence for Understatement of the Year 2019. :slight_smile:


#23

The truth is that Apple and Google both have top notch security teams, so I would really refrain from claims about security. Note that the latest issue in Apple devices was using a Webkit exploit (https://googleprojectzero.blogspot.com/2019/08/a-very-deep-dive-into-ios-exploit.html), which is used by … the Librem browser.

Security is very hard, and once you’re an interesting target, people with lots of creativity, knowledge and money will come at you.