Why i think Fairphone OS should drop root and pre-install Google Apps

Thanks what i am saying. I don’t use Gmail for important personal stuff, so i needed a good email client (i know that Gmail can handle other accounts as well today, but that is very recent change), so i discovered K9-mail and i am a happy user.
Using Firefox on the desktop, i installed it on my Fairphone right away. I think these two are no-brainers because very comfortable and en-par with closed alternatives.

I use OSMAnd as well and it is great. The Openstreetmap-Data is so detailed even for little foot-paths. But searching quickly for a place is still faster with Google Maps.

And then there is, like you said, WhatsApp, Spotify, travel planners (for railway, bus and other companies). Those will probably never be available in F-droid. And best way to install is the Play Store. I was living “Google-free” for six months with the Fairphone and missed almost nothing until I moved and installed DB Navigator for my travels and WhatsApp to keep in touch with people at home…

I think it is the same for most users: There will be one or two or even more apps not avaible in open source you really want to use. And as i suspect the great majority of users will therefore have to install the Play Store, i see no need not do the same as almost every other Android manufacturer and preinstall Googles services.

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And I think, the moment FP drops root, it becomes just a regular phone, with a bad support. Therefore totally dispensable. I’m not an Android developer, but I’m very glad my phone is rooted and I don’t have Google Apps (no Spotify, no WhatsApp, no Facebook, no Gmail,…). And, frankly, I don’t give a d*mn about people complaining about Software XY doesn’t run properly with rooted phone, because it’s the fault of that piece of bad software, not of the phone.
I know I’m just a geek and do not represent the majority of users without any privacy. But it’s the geeks like me who made this project possible.


I completely agree. I bought a FP because of the “fair trade” idea. It is my first smartphone, I really don’t care about the software: as long as it is easy to use, I’ll use it. And some people won’t like this, but Android + Google apps works easier than most alternatives.

So, I use Google maps AND an open source off-line navigator. And many other “non-google” alternatives. I use them when I find them better than the Google ones. Not because of some hate towards one company (it always makes me think about the Micro$oft-hate a decade ago :slight_smile: ). And yes, sometimes I am frustrated by the way my FP wants to “avoid” Google (not installing google play store,…).

If FP would take the same position, it would be bankrupt by now. Because this is not true:

I’m sorry, but I don’t think only geeks care enough about Fair Trade to be part of a croudfunding leading to the FP1.

I also think many people who are using a FP are not represented on the forum. Who are they? I don’t think it are the geeks. I think these are the people who care about Fair Trade, but not so much about software-related freedom…


[quote=“danielsjohan, post:9, topic:5582”]
If FP would take the same position, it would be bankrupt by now.
[/quote]And I think you’re right here. But

  1. I’m not from FP team
  2. It would happen, because ppl choose to blame the wrong guys.

Imagine you’ve got a 100MBit internet connection and your banking software would run a speed test and tell you that it wont run on your computer cause it needs a 5Mbit connection. How would you feel about it? Will you blame your ISP? Will you ask it to get you a 5Mbit connection?

Imagine you’ve got a PC where you can choose the OS to use. Imagine you’ve installed an OS which allows you to install any program you want and gives you extended ability to customize/modify/set up the OS. Now imagine a program which is designed for that OS that tells you to give up all the control, all the programs that use the extended abilities and forbids you to re-enable it later without a complete re-install of the OS.


@Ben @Lidwien: Just for the record: Whatsapp offers their Android app from their website to download. It updates itself (no app store needed).

@all: I did not install Google Apps on my current setup, and can still use Whatsapp. And generally I think that, as more alternatives to Android and iOS emerge, more companies (like transport companies) will offer their services outside app stores. Actually it’s only a question of providing an intelligently designed web page. Advantages for them are:

  • They only need to develop one web app and not apps for different platforms and thousands of different phones, which have a huge potential for compatibility issues.
  • The web app is up to date at any moment.

PS: I still do not understand, why Google Apps cannot be removed after installation. Do they really need to dig that deep into the system to provide their “services”? (K9-Mail, e.g., doesn’t even need root permission to run…)


I’m guessing they need to dig deep to provide their anti-services. If they wouldn’t dig so deep how could they still spy on your email if you’re using K-9 and not GMail?
I don’t think that installing alternative Aps alongside GAPPS increases your privacy very much, especially if you download them from Play. Once you let Google on your phone you’re pretty much doomed.
Oh and btw, the nice people from the MicorG Project who allready brought us their Unified NLP as an alternative to Google’s Network Location Spyer/Provider, are working on providing FOSS alternatives for all Google “Services”. If I understand their project descriptions correctly the’ll make Android believe that GAPPS are installed, so Apps that only run with GAPPS work just fine and if they usually use GMaps there is an OSM-API for that. I’m donating to them on Gratipay.


Thanks for all your comments, expecially the critical ones. One thing that is overlooked in my point of we is step 3 of 3 action points above – this will not only help people to keep their phone free of proprietary google apps but should also make the live a lot easier for third party developers:

And please keep in mind: Non-rooted by default does not mean “un-rootable”. It’s only that i think this default setting would be more appropriate for most users! It should definitly stay possible to root the phone, at least when using AOSP but it would be almost certainly possible anyway.

Even it should read "drops root by default, i completely disagree: What is special about the Fairphone is NOT mainly the software but production and sourcing of materials. That is what sets Fairphone apart, not the lack of Google Apps or root. This has been that way for the FP1 and will be the same for the FP2. Have a look at what Fairphone says about the next Fairphone, especially the “four key action areas (mining, design, manufacturing, life cycle)”. Software is not mentioned here directly, and that is for a reason: It is important only regards to design and life cycle impact. That, in my point of view, is not related to root or not nor Gapps or not.

I do not know if we have such insight into Fairphones user/support base to make or support such claims.

I did not get that at first, but if i understand you correct, you this should describe a rooted phone without Gapps vs a non rooted phone with Gapps. But it is not 100% correct i think: The catch is, installing Google Apps does not limit you to install apps from other sources. You can still download apps manually (any apk on the internet), install competition app stores like Amazons or use a Free Software repository like F-Droid. And, Google Apps work fine on rooted phones as well as phones with unlocked bootloader as thousands of users having Google Apps on their Fairphone like me or CyanogenMod phones can confirm. This is simply not related to the Google Apps

Because they do much more than an App. The Google Applications dig deep into the system as they provide additional services like app installation and updates without user interaction via the Play Store, locating and remote deleting a stolen or lost phone or Google Cloud Messaging to support battery-efficient push messages.

Somehow it is, yet the web is still not there sadly or application and service providers sadly do not use mobile web pages to their full capabilities. This is sad and i would love to replace most apps with a webpage, but sadly we are not there yet! I agree this is the way it should be done!

Dear Paul, i very much enjoy your posts and you do a great job here, but this is simply FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt). Yes, technically Google could upload all your data to the cloud as we have no way to verify the sources of their proprietary apps. Microsoft could to the same with Windows as Apple with OS X and iOS and Blackberry etc.


Well maybe you are right and my example was plucked out of thin air, but believe me, I don’t “fear” Google, I loath them! :wink: I’m not scared that Google leaks my personal private information to the public, because I know they are just interested in Big Data Analysis; that’s where the money lies.
But let’s face it: if Google has the possibillity to collect more data from you the only thing that will stop them from doing so is if nobody will pay them for it.

And yes, Microsoft, Apple & Co are not better. But the silver lining is that if you only use one of the services of each big company, you give them less valuable data.
So you can have e.g. a Blackberry, an Apple Computer, use Google as a Search Engline, have a Yahoo Mail Adress and use Facebook and Skype and as long as you don’t also use Youtube (Google), OneDrive (Microsoft), iTunes (Apple), Thumbler (Yahoo) and WhatsApp (Facebook) or any of their other Services they all might not be able to collect enough data to know about every single aspect of your life! :smiley:


This is all well and good. An interesting strategy as well ;-). But to me, it is not a convincing reason not to preinstall the Google Apps :-). I still see far more benefits in using a more usual approach per default and provide an truly hackable alternative for others.

[quote=“ben, post:13, topic:5582”]
I did not get that at first, but if i understand you correct, you this should describe a rooted phone without Gapps vs a non rooted phone with Gapps.
[/quote]Not exactly. I was talking only about rooted vs unrooted phone there. And about some malware people reported refuse to run on rooted phone.
If gApps were like another App, I wouldn’t say much against it. But it’s not and you lose part of the control when you install it.

Ok, thanks for the clarification. I’ll take that as a very strong opinion for keeping the phone pre-rooted, even if that means some apps won’t run easily for some users, because the level of control coming with root is more important to you.

Your classification of these apps as “malware” is questionable, i am pretty sure we have different opinions on what malware is. for a german definition see the BSI, the Wikipedia says this:

Malware is defined by its malicious intent, acting against the requirements of the computer user, and does not include software that causes unintentional harm due to some deficiency

I am pretty sure neither those banking or security apps users complained about not running on the Fairphone nor Google apps can seriously be considered malware.


Thanks, @ben, for a well-written and stimulating post. You score quite a few points, and in my humble opinion the FP developers should really reflect on this.
Personally I do find google intrusive, but all the same I have the playstore installed and it would be difficult to manage without it. I want my bank’s app as well as apps from regional and national bus/rail operators. These apps can be found on various webpages too, but installing from uncertified places is probably much more insecure than getting them from the app store.
The fact that the FP is rooted hasn’t caused me any trouble - it has been an asset, however, allowing me to solve a few problems.
For me it would be OK if the FP came with the playstore preinstalled, provided it would be fairly easy to remove it. Or the other way round, as it is now, but in that case the process of getting access to the playstore must be much more straightforward and simple (lost access to the playstore is a recurrent issue here at the forum, a sure sign that the present solution is unsatisfactory).
It also makes sense to deliver the FP unrooted. But again, the root option must be on offer, and the rooting process should be an easy one - a ‘click here’ thingy that fixes everything.


[quote=“ben, post:17, topic:5582”]
Your classification of these apps as “malware” is questionable, i am pretty sure we have different opinions on what malware is. for a german definition see the BSI, the Wikipedia says this:
[/quote]A software, that forces the user to permanently lower the user control and the abilities of the OS, is by my definition acting against the requirements of the computer user. Unless you’re an Apple user, of cause. Reducing the user control and the OS abilities I can safely classify as damage to the OS.


Bank of America’s online banking app requires you to accept
microphones and cameras. McAfee called Bank of America and asked why
they require microphones and cameras. They replied that – if you emptied
all of the money in your account and said “it wasn’t me”, they could
check, and then say:

  • Well, it certainly looks like you. And it certainly sounds like you.

In order to do that, B of A’s app keeps your microphone and camera on for a half hour after you’ve finished your banking


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@kgha Thanks a lot. And even more for pointing out something I possibly did not make clear enough:

Yes, it should be easy. It do not know if it is possible to make is SO easy, but it should not be a barrier. I know that on unlocked, but unrooted phones, root is mostly installed in the boot loader, this is a proven and fairly simple step when you follow the guides: Download a zip (could be done from fairphone updater), reboot to recovery (could possibly be done by the updater as well and if not, boils down to holding a button during power-up) and then select the zip file for install and done.

Root has been an asset for me as well when i first got the phone, but i realised i use zero apps requiring root anymore (except the fairphone updater, which obviously would have to work without root as well).

It is almost impossible to remove the Play Store once it is installed. The internet is full of people asking how to do this on rooted or CyanogenMod devices. Recommendation is mostly: Simplye reinstall CyanogenMod or whatever. This is why i made point 3 on the action list that is provide (and this time really!) everything that is needed to build AOSP from the official sources for the device. This includes kernel sources, drivers, even if in binary form, how tos etc. But it will enable developers to replace AOSP with CyanogenMod for example, or make the life easier for people who want to build Ubuntu Phone or Firefox OS for the device. To see what i would have in mind, look at what Sony does: http://developer.sonymobile.com/knowledge-base/open-source/open-devices/

My idea, or somewhat compromise, comes from the following thought: There a different needs and wishes from Fairphone users: Some mostly coming for the Fairtrade, sustainability aspect and some coming from an open source or privacy aspect. Fairphone is very good at the “fairness”, but the current FP1 lacks in the second aspect. And it still is not as user-friendly as it could be for the majority (this a only a guess, i know) of users that want access to Google’s offerings because that is what you aspect from a Android device.

@HackAR i got your point, i do not share it thought. It is very unique categorisation of Malware you offer and it still do not think that Google Apps “permanently lower the user control” and even less “the abilities of the OS”. In fact, many abilities of an Android devices some users expect are only offered with the GApps. I think that is sad, but it is that way.

Abilities of the OS that are enabled by the GApps (not necessarely exclusive, as Stefan pointed out above): The easy installation of millions of apps from the Play Store, amongst them free & open source app, free as in gratis apps, add-financied apps and paid apps as well as abonnements. The remote locating, locking and wiping of your device when lost, very accurate and battery-saving location services, comfortable push messages used by thousands of third party developers… You might not need this, but some want this. Keeping on classifiying Google Apps as malware on some dubios reasons does not help this discussion, sorry.

Regarding the post concerning the “Bank of America” App i think that is a) very different topic, b) a very dubios source (John McAfee, seriously?) and presented in this way, not related to our discussions. Would you mind to remove or annotate your post?


Two thoughts on this:

  1. I agree partly that users “want access to Google’s offerings”. I do not think they want access to all “offerings”, but above all to Google Play and perhaps Google Maps. For example I don’t know a lot of people who actively use Google+.
  2. If Google would provide everything that people “[expect] from [an] Android device” there would be easy plug&play compatibility to Macs, for example. My conclusion here is that Google does force the user in a certain direction (“Hey, you can use our cloud services to synchronize your iCalendar files, why do you want to go alternative ways?”).
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I was a fan of the Nexus-Pure-Android idea until I saw it in action. While I first heard of the Nexus I was really sure my next smartphone would be one of then, but my currend device was pretty new and so this had to wait some years.

Years later a college bourd a Nexus 5 device and I became envious at first. My college got one software update after an other and every one brought new problems. First just small things, that became quickly fixed again but especially the lollipop Update was a disaster. Sure it looks nice but broke so much thinks that works proper in earlier version that the Smartphone lost some of its main functionality (for the college).

The biggest problems where:

  • Memory leaks: The college has to restart his phone all view days manually becaus closed Apps hold RAM blocked. This leads to several problems when he tries to start other apps or runs them in the Background.
  • GCM does not work: So all Apps using Notifications via the google service won’t work correct. If for example a chat message arrives (doesn’t matter witch chat he uses) he wont be notified. At Threema he activated the polling function, this works but would drain his battery).
  • GPS won’t work anymore. The GPS located the phone at wrong positions, this makes his beloved google now traffic alert useless. Google has worked on this problem and thinks became better but not as good at they where before Android 5. So his traffic service locates him at the (almost) correct location on 3 of 5 days, the other two day it simply does not recognize that he has moved from home to work.

After seeing the experiences of my college I became happy about the work of my old Handy manufacturer. He offered just view system Updates but every one was stable I think Fairphone should try to become a bit more like this and not just follow everything that google does. Becaus every error, even if its googles one, would be referred to the Fairphone not to google. And the Fairphone support would have the trouble with it.
The idea that the root access itself occurs software problems is an misconception in my eyes.

I totally agree with dropping the Fairphone launcher. This is not an advantage in my eyes, its just ballast for the software team witch shut focus on stability of the system and the update process.

I for my person could live with preinstalled google Apps because I’m not a Open-Source fanatic an I see no adequate alternative for the playstore and especial GCM. But I is funny for me if you are talking about “reducing” boldware and “adding” the google software at the same time. The google Software itself is bolted and will become this even more.

Because google is real evil I can understand the reservation of every user that didn’t want to use there services. Thats why I liked the current “install-by-widget” solution very much. For me it looked like the perfect compromise between not become slave of the “playstore certificate contract” and simply install the Apps. And the “don’t use google” fraction will be happy to. Of cause the decision of installing the Apps should become Update-proof. But I like the idea behind it.

To increase the usability I woud like more preinstalled Software on the Fairphone. “Preinstalled” not “self developed”. I think having an Office App, a PDF viewer, Mail Client and maybe a nice little weather app preinstalled would be a nice for most user. But only if you can uninstall them.
Maybe another Option would be (I saw that on an low priced Tablet) to ask the user at the initial setup process witch App they want to use and install the selected ones (the Tables used the Andoid-Pit Appstore as source), even the google Apps could be part of the selection.

I definitely disagree with the idea of dropping the root access. I see the root access as fundamental part of the fairphone. For me fairness isn’t related only for Hardware it must also be part of the software. Denying users to administrate there own devices is absolutely not fair. Dropping the idea of an “open” software is the same like dropping the idea of conflict free minerals, it would be an betrayal of the fair idea.

Maybe there is software that won’t run on rooted devices (besides the software that only runs on rooted devices) but I don’t think that this software can be a reason to sacrifice the idea of a phone under your own control. I think it would more a reason to ask the programmers of these software to change there programs to run on rooted devices, too. What they do is like a Windows program, that deny to run if you where able to enter the adminstrator password.


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I was going to write a big rant about how you are wrong and don’t know what you’re saying. But I actually think you’ve got a fair point here. Make the phone as easy to use and accessible as possible for new, unexperienced users but allow those who want to customize it to open it up and unlock root access and bootloader access.

Having said that, it’s worth mentioning that the GApps installer for the new beta looks really slick and works well.


@Stefan two fair points, here is my thoughts on yours:

  1. yes that is true. It would be great if manufacturers had the choice to only install the Play Store and thinks like GCM, but that is not possible, you have to use full package by Google’s policy. That is simply the deal.
  2. well, i would not say it “forces” users, because alternatives are available to create deal and simply installable via the Play Store. You can install DAVdroid for example and perfectly sync your contacts without using Google’s services. Replace “forces” with “pushes” and i agree to you. I do not consider this as unusual or “evil” thought.

@Shiny Thanks for your report!

, the issues with your friends Nexus device sound like real bugs to me and not Google intentionally ruining the experience. Bugs always and of course the do so with Google

This is how i see it as well.

I have not said that, it is simply a different to usual software distribution on Android which in my experience can but additional burden on the developers as well. More importantly i think it is not that valuable to average users that the Fairphone in the future should be rooted by default. If have nothing, zero complaints, about providing an option to root your device at will. It simply a change of the defaults i am suggesting because if you do not need root, it can be a security issue and i can be that apps you need will refuse to start.

This is a misconception, my introduction of the Nexus devices in the Background was not meant to relate to bloatware, but to custom user interfaces changing the way the device works not always for the better. I think Google does a way better job with the UI today then some years ago and it makes sense to rely on that if you ship and Android device. A good user experience requires not only having the right ideas, it is also about meeting the right expectation and having the development power to implement and verify those and it is illusionary to think Fairphone can beat Google in that aspect, even more so when a custom OS has never been the focus of Fairphones intentions.

This is not very objective. I do not know where that comes from. The real evil? Come on, you use their operating system. Without Google Apps or not, if you really think that Google is the real evil, you should not to that. You are still empowering their position in supplying the de-facto-standard os for the mobile age.

Dropping root per default is not about denying the right perform administrative task. We would have to define what those are, but you are able to do most thinks without root, it is only required for very special operations. And again this is not about denying you the right for root, it is about not shipping root per default.

You might have guessed it, i completely disagree to that point. The idea of conflict free minerals is far more essential for the Fairphone in my opinion.

@Jerry thanks for not ranting. I already feel pretty much misunderstood in some cases. Anyway, i knew this was going to be an emotional debate. It is sad we do not have the same kind of discussion about fair gold etc.

You are absolutly right that new installer looks way better, but it does not fix the problem of having to reinstall Google Apps after each update.

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