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Discussing the pre-installed apps in a stock Fairphone Open OS (Android 7.1.2) installation


#1

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.


#2

The magic keyword you are looking for is AOSP, I think:

Google. (At least the ones which are not changed by Fairphone.)

They are part of AOSP.

I guess Fairphone made the sensible choice to make as little changes as possible to stock Android to keep the need for software maintenance low.

Google delivers e.g. security updates to AOSP … if you took AOSP as your base and didn’t change much, you could adopt those updates with minimal effort.
But if you are e.g. Samsung or Huawei and want to trap people in your own heavily changed alternative Android world, you have considerably more work at your hands, as you have to check each update for not breaking your own fancy stuff.

The “you” you address here are mostly users like yourself in this community forum, and we do nothing of this sort, Fairphone (the company) perhaps do :wink: .

As long as you are using Android, you are not giving up Google :wink: .
You might be interested in Sailfish or UBports … see #oslist.


#3

Another alternative might be /e/ (also found at #oslist). It’s based on Android resp. LineageOS but it’s made to keep out Google as much as possible…


#4

I have a bit of a delay because of a minor bike accident but as I started this I want to reply to your comments.

Okey, so the term AOSP isn’t new to me, but thanks for the additional links that I will look into soon. That Google has opened up the system was one argument for me to switch to Android for my new phone. I didn’t want to run iOS or Windows and for a long time I thought that Android wasn’t any better but that you can (thanks to AOSP) at least get rid of the closed source Google apps (and things like usage analysis and registration/association to a Gmail-address [most of the time]) was a blessing. And I’m not that paranoic that I don’t use my phone if there is any chance for Google-surveillance. I know that the OS isn’t completely free of “calling home”-routines.

Therefore /e/ was a nice hint, but no real alternative for me. First of all is it still no final release and I need my phone for everyday life. If I had a second phone I guess I would try another ROM every week. :wink: But reading some texts about /e/ leaves me wondering: They try to eliminate Google as much as possible but use migroG that (even in this forum) is claimed to still be leaking some information to Google just to be a bit more mainstream/usable? Not very consequent.

That are feasible alternatives, too, and they come with full releases at least. And that Sailfish isn’t yet another AOSP-fork was new to me. But again I just finished setting up a usable phone and I don’t know whether I want to try out other OSes now that everything is running. Having a system where I know what the apps are doing is more or less what I need. Sure, the OS itself can do unwanted things, too. But in the trade off between total security and comfort I’m willing to take some of both worlds. :slight_smile: Solely based on the code size I wonder how many users were able to prove that those OSes are in fact not leaking anything. This is a reasonable task for a single app, but for a complex system …

That was what I meant.

As I stated in the beginning this was meant to be a bug tracker ticket so “you” was targeting the Fairphone developers.

My takeaway here is that I know fewer of AOSP than I though. My assumption was that FP OS minus Google Apps is AOSP. That would mean that AOSP wouldn’t have (m)any of the initially mentioned apps (FP OS comes with a Gmail app, a Google Calendar app, a Photos Gallery, a Google Music player, …). That AOSP already has (official) alternatives for those Google Apps written by Google developers is new to me. That means that I could inspect their code just like I could inspect the code of F-Droid Apps. But I cannot actively choose them as part of my system, what is sad. At least Fairphone isn’t to blame to create/choose such strange apps.

As this thread is already drifting away from its initial purpose (that we won’t regain, I guess), just another small question. Can anyone point me to some information why porting FP (Open) OS to Android 7 was such a huge problem? It’s again one of my assumptions but I was convinced that you only need your phone’s hardware drivers and another version of your desired OS and after putting them together you have a running OS for your phone. Given that the drivers haven’t changed (because the hardware hasn’t changed) the FP OSes should be based on Android 8 already. Isn’t that one of the benefits of using an (almost) unmodified AOSP? I mean Lineage (which is a huge community, I know) managed to do so and they aren’t developing for FP only.


#5

Here is a link to a post with a link…