What (non)Linux users need in a Phone

A road-map to building a third Mobile OS ecosystem in 2021

Hey, you know there’s options other than just iPhone and Android now, right?”

If you’re the proud owner of a Librem 5 from Purism or the Pinephone from Pine64, there’s a decent chance you’ve (pre-emptively) bragged to your friends and family about this wonderful world outside the prying eyes of Google and Apple; only to receive a resounding:

Huh?”

That’s okay, you’re definitely not alone, I’ve already bragged to everybody who would listen about my awesome new phone that has switches to turn off the camera, it’s so secure!

If it’s so wonderful, Cara, why do you still carry your iPhone 6s everywhere with you still?”

Ummm… shush. Is what I usually end up having to say. So, how can we change that? What do Mobile Linux distros need to be be considered desirable by the average, non-technologically inclined person?

What does the competition have to offer?

“Hey Siri, what’s the weather like?”

The single most impressive feature on any modern smartphone in my humble opinion, is the ability to speak aloud, and have an invisible person answer your query. From Cortana and Alexa, to Google Voice and Siri, the main players all offer useful and full-featured Virtual Assistants to, well, assist, in speeding up our informational intake from moment to moment.

So why doesn’t Linux?

“But Cara, there’s Mycroft you kno-”

Yes, I know, but is it usable? Truly, usable. If you hand your phone to your tech illiterate friend, will it ‘work’ for them as they expect it to. As is stands right now? No.

So That’s our first Bullet, We need a staple Virtual Assistant(s)

Video Calling

On iPhones, you have Facetime, on Android you have.. well I’m not entirely sure that they have quite as a staple video calling app, however across both, users have a variety of options from Facebook Messenger and Discord to Zoom and others.

Across Android, ios, and Linux distributions, you have one unifying contender that I know of: Telegram. So, In my view developers should prioritize patches to their phones builds to focus on enabling and optimizing video calling across devices through Telegram.

Music Marketplace Apps

iTunes and Google Play Music. These are the largest distributors of music on their platforms, and for good reason. The fact that payment integrates across apps on the phone, to the fact these marketplaces come preinstalled, leaves users with little reason to shop elsewhere. And while some developers will see this as a bad thing almost akin to monopolies, others like myself may see a road-map to success. And how to do it better, and more fairly.

Google Play and the App Store

The Snap store. Flathub. Github. Discover. Software. Gnome Software. And more. Every distribution seems to prefer one or two of these being preinstalled on their system, and while developers see diversity and options, Users only see confusion. “Where do I download ______ from..?” should not be an question with more than a couple answers. Users crave ease of use, and as quick of a time doing their tasks as they can. Mobile Linux needs a unifying App store that’s not scared to allow developers to sell their apps and games on it if they wish to make a profit.

What we have that the competition doesn’t

While ‘Not spying on you’ is starting to become more the norm on Apple systems; Google products are a very different story. However, Linux systems are private and non-intrusive to their users by design.

Full Disk Encryption

-Modularity

-Open Hardware design

-Secure and private hardware

What the competition has that we don’t

A lot. We need to catch up, and sort priorities if our goal is to add a third option to the market.

-Virtual Assistants

-App Stores that are easy to use and populated with many apps and games

-Incentives to developers to want to code for Linux Mobile ie: $$$

-Everything just works. Calls can’t drop, or lag due to software. Video calling needs to work. Bluetooth needs to be stable. Modem connection needs to be stable.

-Video Calling

What Linux developers like to work on, that general phone users don’t care about, ie: time wasters:

-Matrix

-IRC

-RSS

-Authenticators

-Lo-Ra (I’m sorry but it’s true)

-Text Editors

-Web Browsers (chrome, they want to use chrome, yeah, I know, ugh)

-Terminals

-IDE’s

In Conclusion

With a goal of adoption by general phone users:

-Video calling

-unified, paying app store

-Virtual Assistants that work and wake on trigger words

-Music Store

-Do not prioritize Admin tools on Linux phones as much. General Users do not care, I am sorry 😦

Additional Note: A unifying SDK to make mobile Linux apps similar to Android Studio and X-code would help speed development.

Happy coding Developers!

Published by Cara Oswin

I write about Linux Software and devices. My hobbies include writing, DnD, reading, playing videogames, and chugging energy drinks to pump out code and articles!

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