Preamble: First I thought about making this an issue on the FP Open Android 7 bug tracker, but this turned out to be more of a personal opinion and starting point for a discussion. So I landed here. If you thing this should be an official issue (e.g. if we find some conclusion that is more practical and technical) I would immediately move/copy/link it there, but I think starting here is more appropriate.
After my previous phone (that I used for almost 10 years) started to have more and more issues, I bought myself a Fairphone recently. One reason for my decision - among others - was the official alternative OS without Google apps. Hence, after roughly checking that my phone worked at all I immediately installed the Open OS and chose to NOT include any version of Google apps. I don’t regret my purchase or my choice of OS at all. But unfortunately I got a very negative impression of most of the pre-installed apps. I understand that you don’t want to ship an almost bare OS but on the other hand everyone willing to take the efforts to change the device’s OS will have no problem with installing their apps themselves, I guess. But I’m fifty-fifty on this. The only thing is: Given that you ship FP Open without app store leaves me wondering why the OS comes with so many other apps. Isn’t an app store as much a core feature for a smart phone as a mail app for example?
I don’t know Android well enough (to customize the Open OS) but is it possible to allow the user to uninstall pre-installed apps? I assume that this is not possible by design and given that the few apps the OS comes with don’t occupy so much space this isn’t a serious problem but I would prefer this option if it existed. And I really love the minimalistic Firefox browser. Until yet I haven’t replaced it although you cannot get rid of the annoying cookie popups (the cookie storing your decision is deleted immediately after closing the browser) and you don’t have a bookmark collection there other than placing links on your home screen.
But my core question is who developed the pre-installed apps (was it you? are they already part of the Android core?) and more important who selected them for this OS? Right now I disabled and replaced eight apps (compared to the small number of pre-installed apps this is quite a lot). But this number may increase in the future. Here is why I chose to replace which of those apps. Perhaps this may have an impact on the pre-installed apps in further versions (although this probably isn’t high priority):
TLDR: Most of the issues come down to app permissions. I don’t want to call those apps malicious just for requiring too many permissions. They may be perfectly fine and there may be plenty of users happy with such interwoven apps that may create the “user experience” you’re looking for. But from my point of view they don’t fit to the idea behind this OS. Why give up Google if the phone and its apps are still doing things (and in particular sharing information) without my knowledge and agreement and may also sniff any secrets (passwords) or other sensitive data (online activity, geo-location, …)?
1: Calendar - I chose this OS to get rid of Google. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that they created the core OS but I don’t need them to track every activity all the time. Now this calendar app requires a configured mail account to create any entries. This already is ridiculous but - okey - I configured my personal (not Google) mail account in the Email app. The result was that I still couldn’t create calendar entries. I haven’t tested it with my Gmail account but I assume this would have worked. But that wasn’t what I had expected from a simple calendar and especially not on an OS that pretends to not be entangled with the Google ecosystem. If I need to configure my Gmail address (or any other mail address with syncing functionality) anyway then why install FP Open?
2: Camera - Personally this app gave me all I needed if - and that’s the critical point - if I were able to configure the save location. I wrote this that way by intention because this setting confused me more than once. Sure, you can enable or disable whether the current geo-location is added (saved) to the pic’s meta data. But you can’t set the memory location images are saved to. And as soon as I inserted an SD card this was one of the first things I tried to change to keep the precious internal storage free from media files (also giving me an easy way to backup most of my personal data by just cloning the removable memory card). Having a camera app installed that can at least do this would be especially beneficial because finding a camera app that works well with the hardware wasn’t trivial. By the way: As far as I know no Android let’s the user configure the save location of screenshots (please tell me if I missed something). Wouldn’t this be another nice and unique feature?
3: Contacts - Welcome to an app, that Google could have written themselves (and perhaps has?). Yes, a contacts app should be able to call or message people but why the hack does it need access to my geo-location or my calendar? And why is it asking me for those permissions again and again every time I access a contact’s details. Sure, I can deny permissions forever but this is a perfect example for an app that I would never have selected from an app store if I had a choice just because of the long list of unnecessary permissions. Again, others may want a contacts app to be even more powerful than this but not me.
4: Email - I’m not sure anymore but if I remember correctly then this was the app that didn’t even wanted to start up without having granted it a whole bunch of almost arbitrary permissions. I kinda get the storage thing but all the other permissions should be optional at least or just not there at all.
5: Gallery - Some may find this clever but when I open a gallery then I want to view pictures that I already took. Therefore, automatically open the camera when swiping too far to the left in the camera’s folder is just ridiculous (and in some contexts even a serious security issue depending on what the camera currently focuses at). The Fairphone has a hardware button for this exact purpose, that is shortcut enough, no other app has to offer me chances to take a photo quickly.
6: Music - Seriously, I can’t remember why I replaced the existing music app but that it has a permission for phone calls could’ve been the reason. Nonetheless I wanted to use VLC anyways.
7: Search - I haven’t actually replaced but only disabled this app because I really couldn’t see a point in this at all. Searching for apps is already possible in the all-apps-view and searching for contacts is the responsibility of the contacts app. Does this app offer any other functionality I don’t know of and that I urgently need?
8: Sound Recorder - Another app without replacement (yet). I used this app to test my headset and therefore granted it permission to make phone calls. But after I knew my headset worked properly this app was gone for good because if this app can only record audio if it has permission to make phone calls than who gets all the audio junk I’m telling the Sound Recorder app? Which company will be first in market with a new product idea that I recorded with this app for myself (hopefully just joking)?
For anyone else struggling to find good replacements I would suggest to search for simplemobiletools in your favorite app store. Except for his camera app that can’t handle the hardware right this developer does an awesome job in creating simple but yet powerful tools. At least for the apps I had to replace. I haven’t tested his music player though and he doesn’t offer a mail app at all but this was mostly written in his notes app.