Fairphone's future with convergence

I was wondering if people had an idea about how likely it is that the next Fairphone (FP3?) will be designed with convergence in mind. I also was wondering if we could discuss here the benefits of that design, and how it fits in Fairphone’s ideals.

By “convergence” I mean a device’s capacity to replace both a phone and a computer (and potentially a tablet) by hooking peripherals to it. I am thinking specifically of Ubuntu’s plans to have a single OS that would adapt to what is plugged into the device (i.e. size of the display, mouse, keyboard…), although I am not sure if Android has something similar on the cards. The device would also need to have enough power to be used as a “normal” desktop workstation.

I think this would fit nicely in Fairphone’s sustainability ideals as having one device instead of two or three would drastically change the environmental impact of our personal computing (although the footprint of extra peripherals would of course need to be taken into account).

Are there plans already? Will FP3 be Ubuntu-ready, given that FP2 compatibility is in the works? Is the FP2 in any way likely to be compatible (i.e. would a hardware upgrade allow for MHL, given that by default it does not?)? What do you think of the sustainability aspect of this?


The problem is the SoC. You can build fun stuff with ARM that runs Ubuntu well. But as soon as you want a phone, you are quickly stuck with Android, bin blobs and 3-4 companies. The is still true for all Ubuntu-ready phones, as far as I know, they all just use libhybris. If that’s okay for you, it’s possible.

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OK, so what you mean is that currently, the ideal of being completely rid of Google’s closed-source binary blobs (as is the long-term idea that Fairphone’s open OS is part of I assume) is incompatible with the convergence that Ubuntu offers. Is that right?

I wonder if Canonical are looking into alternatives to Android’s lower-level sticky software, or if they are happy to always depend on Google in the future.

I assume that a lot of people accept that we will have to rely on those binary blobs for a while at least. I can’t really imagine FP3 being released without them. Or is there a reason to be hopeful? Maybe the first step is FPOS without the necessity of Google Services, and ready for a couple of alternative OSs (Ubuntu, B2G, Sailfish), and the hardware for convergence. And in the future, aim for a completely open modular hardware + fully free software phone (FP4?).

I’m not an expert, please keep that in mind. And I don’t want to spread rumors. The bin blobs are needed to keep the graphics card working accelerated. But most of these drivers don’t allow you to share the output easily with another screen. DRM comes on top of it, I guess.

But maybe you could talk to Carsten Munk (author of libhybris) and let us know what he thinks how easy it will be to bring convergence/screen sharing to the ‘masses’ using current SoCs? Maybe it’s already possible and we just don’t know :wink:

I think the tricky part is/was always the graphics system. You want access to it and also share the output on a big screen if you use your phone in “laptop mode”.

Libhybris is basically an Android compatibility layer for Linux. Think of it in terms of capability it provides as “WINE for Linux” but then providing “Android for Linux”. It allows non Android OSes (or forks) to use Android binaries. Normally you’d port Android software over but if it is closed source which is the case with binary blobs you use that instead.

The binary blobs are required for hardware acceleration of the graphics. They’re used by every Linux out there; Ubuntu, Android, Mer, Sailfish, etc. Requiring them depends on the GPU being used. It turns out every half decent GPU in the mobile industry is using these GPUs (PowerVR, Adreno, etc). The GPU being used depends on the processor being used which is a design choice by Fairphone the company. The FP2 is sporting an Adreno 330 (due to using a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801). Fairphone the company may be persuaded to attempt to use a CPU/GPU which has open source drivers, provided they exist. I very much doubt they exist. There’s some open source projects existing trying to write open source drivers for these but they’re likely not complete. The status of the Adreno port can be read here.

Convergence is still in a very early stage and I believe at some point it was tied to Intel SoCs in smartphones (Intel gave up on those). Or was it just a compatibility thing of switching from ARM (mobile) to Intel (desktop)?

Two companies in the smartphone field can do some convergence: Microsoft and Ubuntu. Microsoft only on Windows desktop (that is quite popular) and certain Lumia’s running the latest Windows Phone (not a popular platform). Ubuntu also has one, but Ubuntu Desktop doesn’t have much market share and neither does Ubuntu Phone. My point being 1) These implementations are not cross platform. 2) FP is platform agnostic for desktop. It doesn’t even depend on desktop since it is fully relying on OTA updates. 3) FP is even platform agnostic on the OS they’re running but lets assume you mean the official OS (Android with GApps).

Google is also doing something where they allow a customer to run their Android application in the cloud instead. Of course that comes with privacy repercussions. Then there’s the older options of using SSH and RDP. These work great today as it is today. You can also connect a BT keyboard and BT mouse on any Android device. If you’d wanna use USB keyboard and USB mouse you’d have to use a USB hub. Please note I did not verify this works with FP2; I did verify this with other Android devices running Android 5.x/6.x.

Finally there’s the issue of no video out. The Nokia N900 came with a cable to support display on what was it? SCART? That immediately brings me to the point the FP2 lacks a video out port (such as MicroHDMI out or MiniHDMI out). So you’d have to do this via networking. That’s no biggie as long as you’re not doing high bandwidth such as VR. Working example being Chromecast.

ADDENDUM 15/6/2016: I was talking about convergence in this post, and recently Apple had various announcements at their annual conference including a kind of convergence support for macOS + iDevices. AFAIK this won’t be cross platform.


This may be interesting, though I’m not entirely sure it isn’t dependent on networking:


6 posts were split to a new topic: How much influence does Google have on chipset producers?

Continuing the discussion about the “DisplayLink-station” here: So it seems video works. The FP2 has an audio connector right? 3.5 mm right? When watching a movie a delay should be quite easy to set up i. e. in VLC.
Video conference might be a problem.
Now how do I install a good desktop Linux on my Fairphone? :smiley: