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Replicant for... "dumb" phones?

Added by Sam Halliday 10 months ago

I have become completely addicted on my smartphone device and all the proprietary apps and social media crap that lies within.

Therefore, I have decided to buy a dumb phone that only does voice, sms, address book, and 4G hotspot sharing. Cold turkey.

Unfortunately, even the dumb phone I bought is running proprietary software, locked with Blackberry "secure"! (I ordered a Punkt MP02)

Are there any initiatives to get a minimal Replicant (or any other free operating system) onto a "dumb" phone? I'd just love to have a simple device that I can trust, and hack.

And on something of a tangent, I am a bit saddened that free operating systems can't be installed on the current generation of MP3 players. Projects like rockbox are suffering, presumably because the chipsets all changed to lower power / embedded media chips. Presumably there is overlap with the Replicant project here: is there any hope for free software on modern MP3 player hardware?


Replies (10)

RE: Replicant for... "dumb" phones? - Added by Denis 'GNUtoo' Carikli 10 months ago

There are several approaches for that:
  • Have free software running on 'feature phones'.
    See OsmocomBB and the attempts to port to to NuttX.
    The idea here is to port osmocomBB to NuttX to be able to run it completely on the phone, without needing a laptop running GNU/Linux to run part of the GSM stack.
    For Openmoko Freerunner and the Openmoko GTA01 it's still a good idea to have an OS like NuttX running on the modem to allow the CPU running GNU/Linux to be in suspend-to-ram to avoid excessive battery usage.
    • Some calypso based feature-phone went in upstream NuttX but where then removed due to the lack of maintenance
    • The osmocomBB Fernvale wiki page also has some information on more recent attempts to do that
  • Have some feature-phone-like launcher on top of Replicant. You could look in f-droid if there are some launchers that fits the bill.
  • Have some feature-phone-like launcher on top of GNU/Linux. The zhone test application did something like that on the Openmoko Freerunner, there are probably other applications like that.
    http://wiki.openmoko.org/wiki/Category:Zhone_screenshots

RE: Replicant for... "dumb" phones? - Added by Sam Halliday 10 months ago

Thanks! From the looks of it, "feature phones" are perhaps too basic. The phone I got is perfect from a feature point of view (it's a "feature phone" + 4G hotspot sharing). It is Android based, so it got me thinking if maybe other phones out there would have similar specs.

The ideal at this point is if I could circumvent the Blackberry "secure" and run my own minimal version of Android / Replicant but I'm guessing this is not possible.

RE: Replicant for... "dumb" phones? - Added by Fil Bergamo 10 months ago

Sam Halliday wrote:

I have become completely addicted on my smartphone device and all the proprietary apps and social media crap that lies within.

Therefore, I have decided to buy a dumb phone that only does voice, sms, address book, and 4G hotspot sharing. Cold turkey.

Unfortunately, even the dumb phone I bought is running proprietary software, locked with Blackberry "secure"! (I ordered a Punkt MP02)

Are there any initiatives to get a minimal Replicant (or any other free operating system) onto a "dumb" phone? I'd just love to have a simple device that I can trust, and hack.

Mine is maybe a dumb suggestion, but..
If your need is to stay away from browsing and social media, and just have phone, sms and mobile data hotspot, you could have a chance with Replicant, if you set it up properly:

- Install Replicant
- Uninstall the built-in browser
- Uninstall any app that may be distracting to you
- Uninstall F-Droid so that you won't be able to install any app even if you wanted to.

You will be left with:
- Phone
- SMS
- Contacts
- Calculator
- Camera
- a few other "goodies" you can safely remove if you wish.

The downsides are:
- onboard wifi chip doesn't work on any supported device, you will need an external dongle
- hotspot functionality only works with a recently-submitted patch that is not merged yet
- none of the currently supported devices have 4G capability
- your SIM may not be working because of a long-standing issue

If you are still interested in such a scenario, I can give you details on how to remove applications from a stock Replicant image, and I can provide a compiled Replicant image that includes hotspot functionality (without any nonfree software)
Please let me know if you're interested

RE: Replicant for... "dumb" phones? - Added by Sam Halliday 10 months ago

Thanks for the thoughts Fil, but that's not what I'm looking for. The downsides are too much and the upsides are equivalent to doing the same with non-free Android.

I am more interested in having a free software application layer, since that is something I can contribute to. I really hope Replicant succeeds for the lower level freedoms, but it's not something I can contribute to as I have zero hardware, kernel, or systems, experience.

I've managed to find a community trying to liberate the Nokia 8110 4G https://twitter.com/bananahackers and that is pretty much what I'm after (the phone is slightly higher spec than I'd like). The kernel and networking layer of KaiOS is the same as Android, so perhaps there is hope to consolidate efforts at some point.

RE: Replicant for... "dumb" phones? - Added by Fil Bergamo 10 months ago

Sam Halliday wrote:

Thanks for the thoughts Fil, but that's not what I'm looking for. The downsides are too much and the upsides are equivalent to doing the same with non-free Android.

You're welcome; it's a pleasure to try and help people!
I understand that mine wouldn't be a practical solution, indeed.
Unfortunately, the current state of the art still requires some hackish workarounds to get some features to work in the free-world, but it is my belief that it is always worth to give away a little comfort and avoid giving away freedom, as freedom is the most important feature in any device.
But I understand that finding a more comfortable solution could be a better choice for you :)

Just for the sake of clarity, the huge difference between my proposed solution and doing the same with a "non-free Android" is that my solution would work in Replicant, with absolutely no piece of proprietary software running on the phone's main CPU.

I am more interested in having a free software application layer, since that is something I can contribute to.

I think I don't get what you mean.. Replicant does have a completely-free-software application layer; it's not only about kernel; every application shipped with Replicant is free software.

I've managed to find a community trying to liberate the Nokia 8110 4G https://twitter.com/bananahackers and that is pretty much what I'm after (the phone is slightly higher spec than I'd like). The kernel and networking layer of KaiOS is the same as Android, so perhaps there is hope to consolidate efforts at some point.

That seems interesting!
If you get to know more info about that, could you please report about Nokia 8110 in the forum section dedicated to Devices evaluation ?

Thank you,

Fil

RE: Replicant for... "dumb" phones? - Added by Sam Halliday 10 months ago

I think I don't get what you mean

Sorry I should have been clearer. When I say "I am more interested in having a free software application layer, since that is something I can contribute to" I mean that since I am picking one of these fights:

1. contribute to Replicant and try to get involved with adding 4G or WiFi support
2. contribute to KaiOS and write application layer code (with the implicit assumption that KaiOS can use Replicant, one day, hopefully)

then I will choose option 2, because I can do something there, and I would be completely useless with option 1.

RE: Replicant for... "dumb" phones? - Added by Fil Bergamo 10 months ago

Sam Halliday wrote:

I think I don't get what you mean

Sorry I should have been clearer. When I say "I am more interested in having a free software application layer, since that is something I can contribute to" I mean that since I am picking one of these fights:

1. contribute to Replicant and try to get involved with adding 4G or WiFi support
2. contribute to KaiOS and write application layer code (with the implicit assumption that KaiOS can use Replicant, one day, hopefully)

then I will choose option 2, because I can do something there, and I would be completely useless with option 1.

Yes, now I get it. Thanks for clarifying.
I understand your reasoning and it makes sense to me.
Nonetheless, you can still consider involving yourself in Replicant, as there is also room for "application-level" hacking here.
I am a "high-level guy" myself, and I've never done any driver- or kernel-related work in my life, but I'm still getting busy doing work for Replicant on other parts of its (huge) code base.
So, yeah.. I invite you not to give up with Replicant!

Whatever you chose, happy hacking!

Fil

RE: Replicant for... "dumb" phones? - Added by Denis 'GNUtoo' Carikli 10 months ago

Some clarifications about dumb phones:
  • There is now a word to describe "dumb phones", they are now called "feature phones". See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feature_phone for more details.
  • Feature phones typically have a single processor to handle the cellular network and the GUI.
  • While the separation between feature phones and smartphone is technically clear, users have no way of finding out easily without having to understand the hardware architecture of the phone.

So practically speaking a smartphone running proprietary software might look like a feature phone just because it doesn't have many features.

Here are some pointers:
  • You can easily tweak your Android smartphone if you have root and f-droid. Right now Replicant ships with both (we're in the process of fixing issues with f-droid).
  • It's easy to install and even completely remove system applications if you have root. This requires no programming skills. You can even manage to do it with the GUI and f-droid applications.
  • Several launcher that do the kind of things you are looking for do exist: https://f-droid.org/en/packages/de.nodomain.tobihille.seniorlauncher/
  • There are probably a lot of tutorial and documentation for writing an Android application.
  • The launchers present in f-droid have full corresponding source code, that can help if you're making one.

So it's really super easy and you don't need to touch system code to do that. You could also write do a conversion script or application to do the job.

It's also possible to integrate all that in a custom build, or ask someone to do it for you (there is some interest in having a feature-phone like version of Replicant so it would definitely be useful).

The limitation of such approach is that it requires a smartphone running Replicant or another community Android distribution that enables you to have root, in order to fully remove system applications like the stock launcher.

Otherwise you can still deactivate them in the app menu.

Using Replicant for that would avoid several freedom privacy issues that are usually associated with the other Android distributions.

Denis.

RE: Replicant for... "dumb" phones? - Added by Denis 'GNUtoo' Carikli 10 months ago

Sam Halliday wrote:

The ideal at this point is if I could circumvent the Blackberry "secure" and run my own minimal version of Android / Replicant but I'm guessing this is not possible.

This may require a lot of very low level work, such as porting the Linux kernel to it, finding the serial port, some soldering on the phone, etc.

RE: Replicant for... "dumb" phones? - Added by Denis 'GNUtoo' Carikli 10 months ago

Sam Halliday wrote:

The kernel and networking layer of KaiOS is the same as Android, so perhaps there is hope to consolidate efforts at some point.

Did you try running f-droid?

If everything works flawlessly that's probably a good sign and maybe there is indeed a way to share the work by packaging the launcher and custom apps to f-droid to be able to be used on Android and KaiOS.

This way you would also not be tied to KaiOS and might be able to still benefit from your work years later, even if you cannot find anymore phones running KaiOS.

You could also potentially accept contributions from people running Android.

Denis.

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