Are the latest versions of Android really imporant for Fairphone(s)?

People keep lists of known security issues of Android and if you search for it online, you will quickly find even very prominent flaws such as OpenSSL bugs.

As @Jerry says, too many or to severe security issues really make a phone obsolete. Thus I’d love to see updates to Android on Fairphone.

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I will try to formulate some answers to the questions posted here. (I normally don’t spend too much time on the forum so I can do some work!)

  • Newer is better

Generally speaking I tend to agree here. My 12 year old Lada-niva, I wish I had, works perfectly but lacks fuel efficiency and is less secure than a new car. You buy something at a certain time and expect to be using it for a while. Depending on the age of the car you might repair things or at a certain point replace it.

Software changed that game a bit. With software you often get the product delivered multiple time and I think it is important to realize that even purely commercial companies will ship you update. Why is that? Things get shipped before they are ready, security updates are necessary because of liability. Also companies realized that support is important.

In software land it is great to ride the wave and use the newest software that already contains fixes for all the old problems and it is more painful to get security updates into older software.

I am not trying to say that Android 4.4. is so much better than 4.2. I would probably need to go into the settings to see what version a phone is running but it the most recent and secure Android version until the Android 5.0 wave comes along. You are either on the wave or playing catchup.

There really are only a few different ways of riding the wave I am aware of:

  • Apple: Do it yourself, chose your hardware evolve you product (requires lots of people).
  • Commercial companies:Do not do to much support , focus on the new things.
  • Open source:Use generally available and supported hardware contribute changes back upstream.

This all doesn’t apply to Android and the eco-system we live in. Why? System on chip vendors are the only ones who can create good quality Android ports to their boards and companies like Fairphone are only customers. Given all the money and the people in the world it would still take a considerable amount of time for Fairphone to do something like a Android port “from scratch”.
Secondly the System on chip company itself depend on Google releasing their Open Source Android when they feel like it (e.g. once a year) and this prevents many companies from Riding the Android wave.

So how does this all apply to Fairphone?
Fairphone as one might know is shipping with a mediatek chipset and mediatek its busyness is selling hardware and new products. They are still offering good support for problems that one might argue should not have been there in the first place and are able to provide security updates( when we ask for it). More recently they have opened up http://labs.mediatek.com/ and the general feeling is that they are slowly starting to change their open source strategy. This might also be related to they release of Android one http://www.android.com/one/ that uses a mediatek chipset. Also see http://www.xda-developers.com/android/mediatek-android-one-source/

With this in mind what is the best thing to do at this stage. Continue the discussion about Android 4.4 on the Fairphone, start a new one about Android 5.0? I am currently quite happy with 4.2 and while we are still fixing things I think that an upgrade through official channels is not something anybody really wants at this stage( we have stabilized and upgrading will cause new , different issues) but we do want security update. I am happy to see the Cyanogenmod 11 work that has happend by chrmhoffmann and wish we could help him more. Having somethings like Cyanogenmod running on your phones allows us to “ride the wave” because a lot of common development and security stuff gets fixed for multiple platforms.

Anyway a lot of text to say: Newer is better but in our situation I think that prolonging the life of the phone is to happen through security updates and update of application not Android updates. A real solution for the future is to make sure the software on the Phone is more sustainable and that we can better support “ROM” developers. This can happen through better collaboration on the Android platform but it also can happen by using other more open projects like Jolla, Firefox OS and Ubuntu Phone.

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Do you have any plans on involving independent developers, like chrmhoffmann, more? Or is information on this coming in the announced blog post?

Kees I agree with practically all you said; I’d just comment on the above: starting from scratch in Europe we have had the experience of OpenMoko phones a couple of years ago.
They were costly, barely average (in the sense, in the beginning it was hard to even place a phone call quickly…), and never gathered an audience large enough to start aggregating apps.

At this moment I still own mine, which to my delight I managed to repair myself (changing the broken screen, nothing less) just one year ago: this is what open source hardware can offer -a repair capacity years after the initial company has died.

But my experience is, definitely, no isolated development will be capable to ‘fight’ the ongoing wave on iOS and Android. Before buying my FP I longly analyzed Jolla (which total # of produced phones is 500 at this moment*), registering on user forums etc.
Sustainable or not, Jolla software ecosystem at this time is outright pathetic. You get a smartphone that’s just not smart. Last time I looked they didn’t even have a K9mail equivalent.

So, yes, me too I’d dream of a Jolla port on the next FP. Really. But I’ll move, you know, when I can bring in my contacts with their email and phone # together, and the Osmand app I daily use on FP, and an ad-filtering browser, etc.
I wish them all the best, and now I’ll wait until I see people around here announcing they just ported one of their app over there…

H.

(*) : compare this figure to FP… this alone may well mean ‘not sustainable’…

At some time in the future, Application Upgrades will require an update of Android. This also includes all the bundled apps that come with Android (e.g. Browser, Messages, Phone, etc). With Android 4.4, Google for example greatly updated the bundled Browser, and that also includes the WebView many applications are using. The version coming with 4.4 is a lot more recent then you would expect from the fairly low bump in version number, it is based on chromium and no longer WebKit, see [WebView for Android][1], [Android 4.4 KitKat, the browser and the Chrome WebView][2] and [Migrating to WebView in Android 4.4][3].

Also, have a look at the latest [Android Developer Dashboard][4]:
The following image taken from that page shows the distribution of Android version numbers amongst active devices.
Since September last year, devices with Android older then version 2.2, released in Mai 2010, are excluded because they no longer have access to the Play Store. That means, these devices are essentially excluded from Androids Ecosystem, only 3,5 years after the introduction of the OS version (given that it takes some months until the first devices with new Android versions come to the market, the lifespan is much shorter in reality).

In that graphic above, a large percentage of Android users are using a version comparable the one the Fairphone is using, which is Jelly Bean. However, keep in mind that these are numbers of devices sold, but usage numbers. More then a quarter active of devices are already running a newer version of Android, now.

Consider this: Like many enthusiasts, i get often asked when people buy a new Phone. Because I believe software support and updates is a crucial part in making a phone sustainable, i am in bad position to recommend Fairphones. When I preordered my Fairphone in May 2013, i hoped for support of recent Android Versions. When it finally arrived in Januar 2014, Android 4.2 was already legacy software. One Version behind the one i expected it arrive with (4.3 was my educated guess), and two versions behind the most recent android version (4.4 was released in october 2013). There were few devices shipping with Android KitKat (4.4) at the time and i hoped (i still hope) Fairphone will get 4.4 in some time.

This is ten months, almost a year ago. And Fairphone still has almost 8.000 devices in stock. I suggest it will be into 2015 until all these are sold. And if i would buy a Fairphone as a christmas present in december this year, the first devices with Android 5.0 Lollipop will be on the market. And a lot of devices will have got updates, see [Motorola][5], [Sony][6] or the Nexus devices (Full list here: [Areamobile][7]). At that time the Fairphone will be lower-middleclass spec wise and run an definitely outdated operating system. I do not think it would be fair to sell a 300+€ device with no outlook for a software update to current and future versions of Android.

I am not saying I want KitKat now, but I am saying that it will be hard for me to recommend a Fairphone to friends and family, many of them very interested in Fairphones idea. Especially if there are 99€ devices (like the Moto E) promised to get a Lollipop update. I want a clear support path with at least an Outlook for Android 4.4 if not 5.0.

I am not an Android developer, but a computer science student and hobby developer. And i know that the Fairphone is perfectly able to run Android 4.4 (Google even lowered the sys requirements for that compared to 4.2) and even 5.0. That makes is even harder for me to see that manufactures leave capable devices unsupported because they focus on more sales now more than a sustainable and fair relationship to their customers. Looking at you Mediatek. The Fairphone community might be more forgiving, but would you buy a Windows 7 Notebook now if you knew Windows 10 will not be supported next year? Is that not a form of planned obsolesce?

I still have a lot of faith in Fairphone. I like what you are doing and how you are doing it. I know you are dependent on Mediatek and others. It is still a bit sad and also annoying to see that “stable and secure” is somehow outplayed against “fresh and new”. I want both. And I know that it should be possible. One could read your post above in way that you no longer have Android OS updates like to KitKat or Lollipop on your Agenda? Or am i misreading that?

I think it is great of you to mention the work of developers bringing forward a CyanogemMod rom for Fairphone.
If Mediatek and others still prevent you from releasing Android 4.4 or later, this could be a way forward.

Thank you a lot for what you have done so far!
[1]: https://developer.chrome.com/multidevice/webview/overview
[2]: http://www.mobilexweb.com/blog/android-4-4-kitkat-browser-chrome-webview
[3]: http://developer.android.com/guide/webapps/migrating.html
[4]: https://developer.android.com/about/dashboards/index.html
[5]: https://motorola-global-portal-de.custhelp.com/app/software-upgrade-news/g_id/1979
[6]: http://blogs.sonymobile.com/2014/10/16/were-bringing-android-5-0-lollipop-to-the-entire-xperia-z-series/
[7]: http://www.areamobile.de/specials/27646-android-5-0-lollipop-update-diese-android-smartphones-vollziehen-den-versionssprung

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Even Microsoft is struggling with this.

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Since the CM release I wonder if the inability to upgrade Android is of a technical nature or if it’s something else. I could imagine that the CM rom isn’t entirely legal or something. I mean, it must be something like that, no? If an individual can release a 4.4 CM ROM for FP without the help of Google, ChangHong, MediaTek or FairPhone, then why wouldn’t FP be able to adopt the development of this ROM?

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I have made the experience that most custom Roms somehow work, some very stable and good, some with small but nasty bugs that never get fixed.
It is these last 10% or 20% i think, that are really hard to fix. Do you know the 20-80 rule? It is the observation that 20% of work is required for 80% of the outcome, but on the other hand that means the last 20% are hard work. I think getting CM to run on Fair phone as chrmhoffman is only the first step. The next steps would be to make sure everything works. In my software development experience, that can be very hard.

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While not exactly a concrete we-point-here-and-you’ll-see-it article, this ArsTechnica article gives some insight into the added security features of Android Lollipop:

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This is really what this is about in a nutshell: When asked about my Fairphone I reply that I like it at present but that I can not in good conscience recommend it because I expect it to become obsolete in the next year or so.

I bought this phone because I was promised a sustainable phone. As it stands though, my previous phone was more sustainable as it had an official Cyanogenmod build which allowed me to keep using it until the hardware gave out this year.

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‘Obsolete’ is of course a relative concept (although it may seem absolute). I very much doubt that my FP will be obsolete for me in 2015, even if I’m stuck with Android 4.2.
My old phone that ran Android 1.6 (non-upgradeable) could perhaps deserve being called obsolete at the end of 2013. But it worked(albeit slow). And I never picked up any malware or suffered from hacker attacks (at least not to my knowledge).

While my critique above may seem harsch, i want to repeat that i am really behind Fairphones mission and i think they are doing a important and hard job. I know the focus was never on the operating system used but on improving mining and working conditions rights, gain insight into smartphone (more general electronics) manufacturing today and raise awareness for all the issues Fairphones identified and/or tries to address.

It is this what made me pay a premium price for that smartphone. And i would do it again. Maybe it is the unavoidable “price” for being an early adopter (as @keesj pointed out) but i do not want really believe that. While the focus on fair production is a good thing, the also important aspect of planned obsolesce is not yet targeted so well, at least in software aspect.

Maybe a miracle happens and Mediatek releases Android 4.4, which cannot be so hard. Whatever, i think while not addressing this issue specifically, Fairphone has shed some light onto that part of sustainability. I think we all learnt something here, i did and hope Fairphone as a organization did as well. I am looking forward to the Blog promised by @anon90052001 and @keesj about what future development of Fairphone software.

Again, as a computer scientist with interest in software and open source development, i find it interesting that software aspects still are underestimated and really hard. Also it is important to notice that a kernel source and a open boot loader do not make ROMs or alternative operating systems appear magically.

I think obsolete is a bit exaggerated, but i get the point @Teejoow is making here and I fully understand it.

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@keesj answered this quesiton pretty extensively a couple of posts above.

A note to everyone. We have just published a blog from Bas, our CEO, about looking ahead in 2015.

Over the next weeks and months we will post more blogs regarding the next phone but also our support for FP1/U. To give some time expectation on a software blog that I’ve discussed in this thread, I’d estimate it will come in about 3 weeks, 26 November. We’ve got some other posts in the pipe line and explaining the complexity of the software ecosystem takes dedicated time as well.

Thanks for the discussion so far, everybody.

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Its so sad. I just wanted to buy a Fairphone, but i found the discussions about the problems with updating the software. Therefore, i will not buy one, until i dont know for sure that in the next months there will be an updated software.

greets
bene

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I agree. I cannot recommend the fairphone to anybody anymore as long as there will not be an update to 4.4 or 5…

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There is none remaining to be sold at this moment anyway: they closed the shop this very evening.
There will be a very short opening in January (last 1000 pieces remaining, out of 50000), then the next model (with obviously a more recent OS) will appear not before mid-2015.

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I bougth a FairPhone recently, so I hope it works at mid-2015. I don’t want to buy a new FairPhone to preserve the earth, but I would like to have an updated OS in my current FairPhone.

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I think that it’s important to remember that we cannot upgrade device’s OS forever because every major change of release there are many new functions, interface more complex, more active processes and so on which slow down the system. It’s one of the unwritten rules of o.s. :slight_smile:
It’s important patch the bug, security hole and keep OS responsive on device more as possible.
Bye

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Except that Android 4.1 greatly improved rendering performance and responsiveness of the Android UI.
And except that Android 4.4 greatly reduced memory requirements for Android.
And except that Android 5 improves battery life and further reduced the memory footprint of the OS.

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