A new hobby project

December 29, 2019

I was looking for a new computer project to do over these holidays. Not something that I would finish, but something I could sink some time into…

I have an Essential Phone that I bought about two years ago after the price dropped after launch to around $450 (USD). The initial reviews came out saying that the camera wasn’t great for what was supposed to be a flagship phone. I think they wanted to beat the Google Pixel 2 to market, which they did, but the software on the camera wasn’t ready at launch, and even after launch, they could only do so much to make it better. The phone didn’t recover after the initial reviews were published, even though a lot of people wrote follow-ups about how it wasn’t so bad after some software updates and a price cut, but that didn’t turn sales around.

So what’s the point of that story? Well it’s hinting at an idea I had for an endless hobby project. Before I bought the Essential PH-1, I had a Nokia Lumia Icon, which ran the Windows Phone OS. I don’t use a lot of apps on my phone so it was fine for me. But now that Windows Phone is essentially gone, consumers are stuck in a two-party phone ecosystem: Google’s Android or Apple’s iPhone. Two mega-corporations that basically control where mobile is going.

Why is that important? I think having mega-corporations control the mobile software (and hardware) stack would be the antithesis of the GNU Project. I realize Android and Linux are OSS, but when it comes down to what is actually running on your phone, it really encompasses a bunch of other things that you do not control, and are not free or open-source.

So I decided that I would like to try to make a functional FOSS phone for myself. I went ahead and ordered a PinePhone. I realize you probably need 150 engineers to make a mobile UI that is a contender in the market today, but this a hobby project, much like how people make new programming languages or emulators to learn and have fun.