Questions about Fairphone OS / software development


We’ve been seeing quite a few questions about Fairphone OS and the future of software development at Fairphone. Thanks for all the comments, in topics like and If you’ve just gotten into the discussion of software on Fairphone, read this article on our outlook to updating to Android 4.4.

After that discussion, I want to check in to see what are the top questions you have about Fairphone and software development. If I have it right, this is what I see:

  • What kind of software support (eg, security fixes) will be offered for FP1/FP1U and how long?
  • What’s the outlook on updates to Android versions, eg Android 4.4 KitKat?
  • What’s the outlook on alternative operating systems on FP1 or future devices?
  • Will Fairphone software development contribute to free and open source development?

We’re working on a blog post about software development so we’re interested in your thoughts. Thanks for your input!


I think the most important question is,

  • how you plan to get Android 4.4 (Or even Android 5) onto the FP, and
  • if you have thought about supporting independent software developers, like chrmhoffmann from xda-devs (see: CM11 + KitKat on FP).

May I mention there also have been a poll here, with various interventions among which my own :wink:

Regarding the four questions:

  1. I trust continueing maintenance for the current version is important, and am quite confident as this indeed has been announced by FP in the pages you mention

  2. for more modern versions, I for one absolutely don’t need them. I’d accept that only if the idea is to seduce more young customers, but honestly I’d prefer more support for e. g. F-Droid apps installation (coming pre-installed would be easy and cool) and more generally the questions 3 and 4 below.

  3. Within the “poll” post I already explained that with my experience of OpenMoko and Blackberry I absolutely don’t believe a totally new OS would be enough to sustain the FP development. The most recent I considered wasSalfish, on Jolla phones, that is supposed to be freely accessible (some day), and features an abysmally low number of apps. So, well, yes for alternatives, but just dropping Android in the move would be a suicide IMHO.
    Ideally, IFFF the thing is bearable to our small FP dev team, I’d appreciate the next FP to sport some kind of a dual-boot capacity, with (rooted, GApps-free) Android alongside a pure linux-based OS like Sailfish (if they still exist next year).

  4. FOSS: Yes to this of course, but under which form is rather the question.
    Support to F-droid, Fairphone-dedicated repositories…?
    I fear starting actual development of new apps may be too far from the current team base. Unless the current business is so profitable you actually consider expanding easily? :wink:

You have it right. In that order.

@Herve5, while the new Android versions usually do have a facelift (and, yeah, it does remind me of Cher and Michael Jackson every time…), they actually are also changing other things. Security loopholes might be the most important thing for the average user, but at least KitKat was claimed to have a better power management, increasing the life of the average battery. (Never read anything about this claim being thoroughly tested and analysed, though.) And I’m quite sure the full disk encryption which was announced for Android L could be another reason to upgrade. Also, I recently asked a friend why she wasn’t using some apps, including Threema, which others quite happily embraced - and she said she could not install it, since she was stuck with an old version of Android. Her phone is just 2.5 years old.
I did experience similar woes with an old iPod touch, which was stuck with an old iOS, so basically all software was simply not available from iTunes - which just features the latest release.
I really, really don’t want that to happen, again.

Short: Android updates are much more than a new fancy UI. If someone does not want to upgrade, fair enough. But updates must be possible, otherwise the whole idea of an more open, fairer (and probably smarter) phone will fail because in 2yrs time, the device will be rendered obsolete by software incompatibilities and suchalike.


Humorkritik, I feel the path is delicate for Fairphone between those that demand a new system, fully independent from google (and that currently has just no app ecosystem), and those who demand the latest version of all and every Android app.

If you read my earlier posts, also in the poll thread, you’ll see I disagree with the first one (mostly by pragmatism).

But in all honesty, seeing what happens in iOS for instance, or that Google tried to buy Cyanogenmod, I seriously doubt a new Android version is automatically better. Indeed.
I see it rather more controlled, if I dare…

I agree with you on the ground that to just sell, Fairphone must propose a reasonably recent OS that sports many existing apps.
This is undoubtfully Android -by lack of any alternative.
But the latest app à la mode, why?
Fairphone don’t need to target the latest % of market expansion.
Fairphone absolutely don’t aim for hegemony.
At least, it’s my belief: Fairphone don’t need to bend up to that extend.

Now, I hope you aren’t pissed off by my reaction: indeed, I think your post above is the first one I didn’t immediately “like” -this says a lot…

I’ve already sold my soul to Google, so I don’t care much about having a Google free phone, but I guess there’s quite a few people who are interested in pursuing that path.

The most important thing for me is to be sure that FairPhone OS will remain secure and stable. If security issues are found within Android, are they going to be fixed in FairPhone OS as well? If that’s done through patching Android 4.2.2 or upgrading to a newer version of Android (4.4 or 5) is less important to me. From a marketing point of view, having the phone stuck on Android 4.2 is really something that’s going to scare away potential customers though.

Let’s turn that around: Why not have the latest apps? Are you happy to miss out on app updates, which may include new features, stability improvements and security fixes? Would you be happy to miss out on entire apps that all your friends are using, possibly cutting you out of social interactions (like a specific messaging app)?

Another example is that if you want to use a smartwatch with your phone, you’ll need to be at Android 4.3 or newer, otehrwise it simply doesn’t work. Maybe you aren’t interested in smartwatches (neither am I at this point) but other people may be, and for those, Fairphone just isn’t an option right now.

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Not at all, no worries.

However, allow me to disagree on this:

I’m not saying that we should be able to have every app à la mode. Far from it. Let me make my case, in lenght:

Imagine your Fairphone as just another computer for the moment.
And now, compare it to a PC.

Considering software, I often want to use the recent stable version. It’s usually more safe, and sometimes (especially with FOSS) helps to get rid of a lot of annoying bugs. If the latest stable of Firefox, VLC, Jabber, or other software I use frequently come out, I usually wait some days to see how people react to it. I sometimes read the update notices to see if security loopholes are a reason to update. And then I update, usually. The latest stable does work better in >80% of the cases. If not, I often (but not as often as I like) able to downgrade.

Also, software on a PC is most of the times compatible in both directions. I can use it on several versions of an operating system. And while I would not want to run Windows 8, I do assume that the update to Win10 is going to be a good thing to do - but I can decide, as long as my hardware is able to run it. My software would be still running. And while I don’t need to run the latest Office suite, I could, if I wanted to - under Win7 as well as under Win10.

That’s a difference to Android: I can not assume that the previous version is able to run the software I (personally) need. I think you can find quite a number of FOSS apps (on F-Droid and elsewhere) which are only working on Android 4.4 and higher, with no backwards compatibility.

So, I would say, the question is not as you phrase it:

I’d rather say the question is if the majority of users expect that that they can run current software, including the operating system, as long as the hardware can take it. That said, to introduce the difficulty you describe as a delicate path, a quite engaged and outspoken minority of users want to be able to choose a system, as independent of Google as technically possible. And they bloody well must have the choice, otherwise they are going to turn their back on Fairphone.

I reckon the both of us would not be included in a group of average users. But I do accept that the ability to run new Android versions as long as the hardware can take it is much more important than having a working, but outdated independent niche system which. My whole point is: the Fairphone would become much faster software-obsolete than hardware-obsolete if we don’t get Android updates.

Screw Google, but that’s a reality I am (very reluctantly) able to (possibly) accept (without any enthusiasm). :wink:

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I think you are right with your four questions, although I would rephrase the last one as follows:

How is going to be Fairphone’s approach to open source development?

(yes I am assuming that if we are to be coherent with the statement “If you can’t open it, you don’t own it” FP should have an opens source approach, since FP’s openness has to occur in software as well as in hardware and transparency policies, which you are doing right now quite succesfully)

As I see it, opening FFOS and contributing its code is just one option, but there are more that should be considered, specially if we take into account how difficult (if not impossible) is to update the OS. Please take a look into the poll (and comments) mentioned by @Herve5 to see more options. I also share the oppinion of the 192 people out of 314 voters who are for “Open source / Community developed OS (i.e Firefox OS, Cyanogenmod etc)”. As I explained in this comment , I think that either creating a more community-oriented OS by attract and improving community’s contributions or (better) joining an existing open source project with a consolidated and larger community of developers (like Cyanogen) would allow us to solve the issues regarding updates and maintenance of the OS, as I think the current approach is not sustainable nor scalable at all (we only need to check current figures with updates and time-response we are having within less than a year of development -imagine what will happen when Android 4.2 is really outdated!).

Hi @anon90052001,

i think this a fair summary of what questions are most important.

I have two additional questions, going into same direction:

  • Would Fairphone consider funding software development by open source developers for this or future devices? (For example trough charging a few extra euros per device invested in Open Source Android development) Assumed that there is no chance for (official) Android 4.4 or later, this could help development of custom roms.
  • Will future Fairphone be certified by Google and come with Google Apps pre-installed? I know this has pro and cons, i am just interested in your plans for the future.

I for one hope this won’t happen. Moreover my understanding is that the issue is not a matter of certification, but one of Fairphone paying Google for having a right to preinstall GApps.
I much, much prefer the current situation, where upon unpacking you really are one single click away from having the Gapps, and Fairphone isn’t too close to Google.

I also would like to stress the current batch of phones is close to its end: indeed what we should focus on is what will be enclosed in the next batch.

I understand FP is considering more work in hardware design (the current phone design is a clone of what their chinese associated factory had “in stock”) but the mere presence of a question here raised by FP means they also are thinking about the ‘software future’.

In this respect I have nothing against the next FP model coming with a similar ‘press me to install GApps’ button, all this within a more recent release of Android, as long as such a move doesn’t bring more constraints on independence and the apparent current obsession from young users about that latest Andro version proves numerically important…

For current FP models some raise the question of upgrading to the next android too. For mine I absolutely don’t need this, but again the number of interested people should tell us.
OTOH I am interested in a continued maintenance for the current version, in case there are flaws detected, etc. (even though the availability of firewalls like AFwall+ etc. should protect us reasonably anyway)


Interesting questions @ben. I’ll pass them on. It’s too early to say anything definitive on the points but I’ll let you know if I get an answer.

I’m glad to see the interest from FP1/U owners on the road map of a future device. It’s clear to me that the purchase of FP1 will lead to bigger and better developments and interventions as we grow. So I’m thankful that you recognize the ability to do more work on a more fair (and open) software comes from that early investment. (I guess that’s the early adopter effect? any other way to call it?)

We’re working on the blog to get into these FP1 software questions, and then get into more software road map questions that you’re bringing up on FP2.


You may recall the Fairphone team is working on a blog post regarding Fairphone’s approach to software on FP1, answering many of your questions regarding FP1/U software support, possibility of upgrading to Android 4.4/5, and outlook on alternative operating systems.

We have been busy with it, and I wanted to update you that we’re scheduled to post next week (1st week of December). Thanks for your patience!


I read the thread and this article and I’m somewhat downhearted…

So what is the point right now? Do we have a clear software update plan or should I buy a new phone to get the support for Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy (aka BLE) - which is required by most of nowadays fitness tracker devices?
Can anybody from FP shed some light on future plans about CyanogenMod or other possible solutions, please?
I am more than ready to support (with code, test or even money) the next steps, if there are any.

I moved your post to this topic as it discusses the article you mentioned.

If you really need Bluetooh LE aka 4.0, you sadly cannot rely on the Fairphone. I doubt there will ever be an update beyond Android 4.2 and Bluetooth did not work at all in the Cyanogenmod Port. Interestingly, Bluetooth 4.0 does not even work with the Ubuntu Phone currently (while supported in the Chipset as well), which is sad because some people still hope for a Ubuntu Port. This says a lot about Mediatek support in my point of view.


I wonder if Fairphone can enable Bluetooth LE on the Fairphone.
Supposedly the chipset does support it (correct me if I’m wrong here, I don’t have this from an official source) so I’d say the chipset drivers may just support it as well. That only leaves Android itself as the bottleneck here, which I reckon is something FairPhone themselves can modify?

Is this just a pipe dream or a real possibility?

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@Jerry As far as i know, these drivers come only as a binary blob and are targetting Android 4.2. As Bluetooth LE was not available for that version, i highly suspect Bluetooth LE support in that driver. The necessary APIs have only been introduced in Android 4.3 and i am pretty sure there are some api aspects to implement in that driver.,

These are only guesses, but i am afraid this will not happen.

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Does anyone know if Fairphone needs Google certification to ship the Google Play installer itself?