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

@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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I moved this topic to the Roadmap category because it discusses essential decisions for the next FP devices. If you have objections, please PM me. I am not sure if you agree with my decision.



it was just a quick summary of the worries of different people. I think we all know about that many people feel there privacy violated by google, we know that the European union formulated a accusation because of the strong suspicion that google manipulates his search result. As user you can’t prevent that google joins the data off all its services, including AddSense and Analytics witch tracks nearly every move you do in the internet, to create profiles of your own.
I didn’t want to discuss and weighting these and all the other points that worry users, I just wanted to say, that you have to take them serious and yes I wanted to satirize goolgles very own “don’t be evil” slogan witch they won’t follow since years for many users.

I think it’s to easy if you say “don’t use android” if you don’t like googole, because there is no real alternative at the moment, especially if you are not a techie, and dooming “normal” people to be uncritical can’t be the solution.

And that’s one of the huge problems with the google Apps and it is only not posible because google dictates this rules. Fairphone as a manufacturer that tries to brake contracts where one (employer) dictates the rules and another (employee) has no chance to deny them, shouldn’t befall in similar (if not that dramatic) situations with levity. And if they do, they should allow there customers to uncage them self by uninstalling selected google Apps.

I’m with you if you say that the idea of conflict free minerals is more essential for the environment, but it is not more essential for the idea of Fairphone itself. The personal decition I made almost 18 years ago to renounce having an own car and do my daily business by riding a bike, is also much more impotent than the one of buying me a Fairphone, but both sending the same message of my foolish idea to harm the world less than the average European citizen do.

And so installing a rooted Android send the Fairphone Message of trying to do it the “ethical” better way like the conflict free materials do.

Offering a rooted Android just as an option sends a wrong signal for me. It says “Its ok when you deny me the control of my own device if there is somehow a way to get it back”. But denying the access is a perkiness itself and it is simply not fair to follow this.
I know, you belief in security advantages of unrootet systems, I can’t see them. The only thing that becomes secured is that every App can do what it wants without asking what the user wants. For me root is the only way to do something for your security besides don’t using the Smartphone.
There is one single Situation I can imagine where a unrooted OS is needed. This is if a company gives a employee a mobile phone and does not want the user to manipulate it. But I think in that case simply Fairphone isn’t the right choice. In that situation you should use a phone with a deeply integrated advanced solution for exactly this situation, like a Blackberry.
At every other situation a rooted phone is as secure as an unrooted.

Concluding I want to say that Fairphone is not just a Telephone it is a political thing. So it’s challenge is not just to let you make calls and run Apps it also has to reveal something. That is why I believe that it is important to don’t just follow the status quo. If google says “you have to install all Apps or none” than it is a good thing when Faifones answer is “none” and they offer an easy way (like the widget) for its users to install them manually. And if some Apps say (on there own initiative) they won’t run on rooted devices, then Fairphone can try to offer a way to make them run on rooted devices or accept that they are not compatible with this device (like no App on the playstore is compatible to every device). But on my opinion it can’t be an option to say “ok then we do it like everybody else”. Fairphone has to try to change thinks and this is not just a question of hardware it must also affect the software.

Fairphone is not an average phone and I hope it never tryes to be.



Edit: It was brought to my attention that my posts are very long and i am repeating myself. It might be that i feel misunderstood in some aspects which is why i keep repeating them in the hope to get us on a common ground. I revised this post to make it shorter while i tried to keep it’s original intent.

Hey @Shiny and thanks for your contributions again. I think will well never agree 100% but anyway, let’s try to find a common ground.

Let me start with that if you read some of my other posts here, you will see that i am big supported of open source, that i would love to have Ubuntu for example on my Fairphone and i really hoped alternative OSses for possible on the Fairphone. There is on think i do not see so much future in (for the general user) though: That is running Android on a cell-phone without Google’s Apps.

I argue that Android, as opposed to Debian or Ubuntu, was never an operating system targeted at end users. The Open Source distribution was always targeted mainly at hardware and software manufacturers to allow them to integrate Android in their innovative products and somehow collaborativly drive that OS forward.

The only “executable” distribution Google delivers for installation on real devices is exclusivly for their Nexus phones and that comes with Google Apps. Android targeted at end users in Google’s View is tightly coupled with the Google Apps distribution. That is a fact and it will get “worse” in the future.

The next think i worry about is meeting buyers expectations and i think we can agree that the FP1 somehow failed on that in at least some aspects, and that is ok because the FP1 was the first step. The FP2 will come soon but while some issues have been adressed by choosing different development/manufacturing partners/suppliers, regarding others, I simply not know.

The only think we know is that the FP2 will come with Android, while Fairphone is still interested in alternative OSes, the FP2 will not come with one of these.

This is why i proposed a three-fold action plan that in my opinion would improve the Fps software (see above). One goal is to meet the needs of average users better, even those how do not really care much about Google, buy meeting the exception and deliver a device that is similar to others in that it does not come pre-rooted and has access to Play Store etc. out of the box.

In may opinion, that plan with its additional steps bears the chance to improve the situation for everybody. Add the possibility to easily root the device distribution and I think that is really a way forward.

That out of the way, i would like to answer some of your arguments:

I am very sorry, but i find that comparison not only untrue, but sarcastic in light of the ways miners and to lesser extend workers are exploited. It is simply not possible to comparing Google’s service contract with other companies to the exploitation of humans by companies and war-lords.

I am exactly doing the opposite. I did not say don’t use Android, but I said if you think Google is “the real evil” you should be thinking of alternatives, yes. Which exist by the way. Propose this plan here exactly to make the “normal” users experience with the Fairphone better.

Nothing is foolish on this idea. It is a great think to do!

But then again, an “un-rooted” phone does not do any more harm to the environment then a “rooted” phone. And sorry, I see no relation to “ethics”, when a phone is not pre-rooted by default. I think it is more a matter of personal requirements and certainly not comparable to conflict-free materials.

This is simply not true. An application with root access can do almost anything to your system. It can. for example, replace system libraries or applications. It is not sandboxed, but has access to every file on your phone and could possibly modify it. This is actually very useful for apps like Xposed, but it can be used to cause great harm. And how is a normal user supposed to know which application to allow root access and which not?

Yes that is true! And it already does and will continue to do so. Fairphone transparently listens a cost breakdown, it uses some conflict-free materials and tries to use more, it tries do come up with a design more repairable the other phones, it comes with a recycling program that not only covers the FPs but other devices as well. Buy buying you also finance important research and publicity work.

Is that not enough? Has the Fairphone also be a unicorn in software distribution because some people believe “Google” is the real evil. I do not think so.

Let me conclude it is not “the geeks” that made this phone possible, but mainly people concerned of the Fair, Social and Environmental impacts. When I and many others preodered the Fairphone, we did not know it would come sans Google Apps. We bought it to get insight and finance a change in how our phones are produced. We paid a premium price for that and we expect a phone that works as painless as other devices costing a lot less.


I think this is the point where many people disagree. Personally, I think this is essential. FP proves it is possible to produce a phone that is a lot more fair and environmentally responsible than many other “normal” phones, while still being able to ask the same price for the same functionality and usability. This is a wake-up call for the industry: it is very possible to change the way you work, without offending your costumers.

On the other hand, some people want the FP to prove something else: being a “free” phone, as in conflict-, exploitation- and Google-free. For many ofr these people, this phone does not have to reach for the “average user”. It just has to prove it is possible and work smoothly. Not easily, because they don’t expect their phone to be too user-friendly. Many of the user-friendly apps are no free apps (or even OS), so a “free” phone would never be able to reach the same user-friendliness as a average Andriod phone.

So, I think the big choice is: do we want a Fair phone, focusing on proving the industry and average users phones don’t have to contain conflict minerals, they could be more environmentally friendly and workers don’t need to be exploited?
Or do we want a Free phone, focusing on proving it is possible to build a phone that is fair(er), environmentally friendlier and does only (or as much as possible) contain free software?

Personally, I think FP will have to make a choice sooner of later. If they want to get a continuous production (and sale :wink: ) for the FP2, this means they want to sell a lot of phones. I think this also means they choose to target the average smartphone-user, not only people who are tech-savvy and know enough about software to realize what “Root” is and how to use it safely, for example
(And yes, I still don’t count myself to this category :wink: )


@danielsjohan very good summary!

i realise that for some people being google-free is most important. But i do not think it really is and i do also disagree that it is an important part of the Fairphone.

I would like to add there is NO other Phone doing this. While there are several “free” as in “freedom” phone not putting any more thought into the sourcing and production then you average middle-class phone. If you want as much open source as possible, you can choose from a lot of devices already, some even available at your local electronics store. But the Fairphone in it’s idea and dedication is unique. And it is exactly that wake-up call you descriped why i wan’t the Fairphone to succeed.

I personally would love a Fairphone with a “free” OS like Ubuntu. But i realise Ubuntu might just not be there yet. And i also think it is a bit to much to ask. Even with increased numbers, the Fairphone is a niche device, i think it is unrealistic to ask users to pay a (small) premium for fair production, pre-order, have less accessories and only one resource for spare parts compared to large companies devices WHILE also having to deal with a niche OS (be it the most beautiful or open source friendly).

I think Fairphone has a similar expectation i suppose, which is why the FP2 will come with Android. And this is why is argue, if it comes with Android, it should meet the expectations users have regarding to Android…

I find it kind of irritating that is seems that some people think that the Fairphone is not possible without being also the “FreePhone” as in free software. I see no necessary connections between the two aspects and i don’t remember Fairphone ever promising Open Source or Google Free Android. Finally nobody can be forced to use Open Source only.


After reading a fair amount of this, I think I agree with Ben. I have been fairly insistent in a few posts that FP made a poor decision when it decided to make a Fairphone OS - the installed base of devices was never going to be large enough to make this a sensible decision.
Myself I am pretty allergic to google, and have been willing to put up with various inconveniences to de-Googlify my life to some extent. However, I am convinced that the majority of FP buyers are not as concerned with FOSS as they are with avoidance of conflict minerals, relative confidence about decent working conditions of those who make the product, and active engagement with recycling - these are the characteristics that make FP unique.
The people I read in most areas of the forum are much more concerned with these issues - beyond that, they just want a phone that works.
Personally, the ability to drop google apps is important, but the fact that this comes tied to the FPos which is now seriously out-of=date, coupled with the choice of a chipset which is completely ‘locked down’ makes it pretty much meaningless. This is the reason that there are no ‘alternative’ OSs available for FP - it is just too hard - read the forums over at Cyanogen - the attempts there have resulted in partial functionality only.
I would far rather FP2 was based on a more ‘open’ chipset, so that porting of alternate OSs (which can be used without a google account if desired) is straightforward, and shipped with Google installed. This way it is likely to sell better - which increases the ability of FP to put pressure on the wider industry to improve ethical standards throughout manufacture and recovery - while at the same time allowing the minority of us who care about how google operates to install Cyanogen etc.
Thanks Ben for writing so clearly about the points and for responding to so many replies - very valuable.


After 6 days, this topic has gone through a fair amount of discussion. I would like do know what Fairphone thinks about this and i am therefore flagging @anon90052001 (as Community Manager) and @keesj (Software Developer) at Fairphone.

Primarily just to get this noticed, so they can potentially address that in future blog post or something. I would also like to know if the decision to ship the FP1 without Google Apps was made out of necessity (@anon12454812 mentioned lincensing in the Beta testers forum) or “conceptually”.

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I read the post where @anon12454812 explained that the FP1(U) couldn’t be shipped with GApps because of licensing. I think it would make FP liable to Google, if they would licence GApps.

Sorry, just no.
It’s the wrong path, Fairphone CAN and SHOULD be independent of Google.
There are alternative to all of their apps and YES Fairphone should suggest and preinstall some of those.
Unless Fairphone clearly states that the “fair” is just on the “mechanical” side, I expect software to be fair toward its user, and to not only allow but to promote a quality Free environment.
But freedom is freedom, I would put a 100% Google ROM available in the installer, with no additional steps needed (if possible at all given the licensing difficulties from Google)

Quoting from “Our road map to a fairer phone”:

To create the Fairphone and contribute to a fairer economy based on
social and environmental values, we’re opening up supply chains,
changing production processes and improving worker welfare.


In trading and the treatment of workers, i think it is possible to find a common definition of Fairness. But how do you define the Fairness of a Operation System or App or Service Provider? I do not think Google’s Apps are “unfair”. There might be many reasons to avoid if you like and I switched away from Google Mail for example to years ago. But unfair? On what grounds? Simply because it is not Open Source or Free Software?

I am a big supporter of Open Source and Free Software. But you cannot simply mix these things up and declare “all software shall be unfair, expect when it’s free a in freedom”. This is pure ideological fight that cannot be won. With all the same right could I say the Fairphone is “unfair” because it does not fulfil buyers expectation, nowhere does is say manual installation of GApps is required and that this process is error prone. Let’s stop trying to redefine what “Fair” means.

It’s not the mechanical side, it’s making the whole production chain more fairer, transparent and sustainable. If said that so often i cannot believe this very important part of what Fairphones gets underestimated so much. It’s simply not comparable in it’s importance to Google Apps or not or even root or not.

Edit: @danielsjohan said it better above :slight_smile:
Edit: Accidently included a quote twice.

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disclaimer I have not read the full thread.

For FP1 the gapps installer is something that just happened (some might call it a happy coincidence) . Secondly how root was implemented in FP1, specially the early releases was sub optimal(giving root access to anybody).

For FP2 we will provide different flavours of Fairphone OS(and certainly one without gapps). As of today I have not seen a signed contract to ship gapps so I can not even say anything about shipping with google apps.

As to the root and rootable discussion. The default shipping method for FP2 will be using a unlocked bootloader (e.g. users will be able to flash images and kernel, fastboot enabled) and the default image on the phone will use the current Android security model for protection (e.g. we will not “add” root in the shipped and supported installations). For the alternative image (without gapps) we will be able to be more flexible and listen to what the community wants.

What we do not know yet is if this model will work for all the parties. We don’t know yet if we will also need ship FP2 devices with a locked bootloader.


I agree!

  1. The first aim is the environmental impact and working conditions (I think that’s a plain “fact”)
  2. Most users prefer a “common” OS (and I would like to use Bancontact but can’t because my phone is rooted by default, for example, so also this is a “forced” choice).
  3. If you can root and remove Google influence afterwards, every kind of user is served. Let the open-source computer wizards make cyanmod (or something like that) or Ubuntu and I will probably give it a try!

Is dual boot an option for a phone? That would be perfect!

You “controversial” proposal is a good one, in my opinion Ben ;-).


Do I read this correctly that only the default image will be supported and if you use the alternative image - maybe with added root - you will loose support?