If /you’re/ paranoid about constantly feeding Google with personal data, but you love the Android experience, there’s an OS for you. It has a weird name /e/ which I hope they change some day in the future. It is a fork of LineageOS that’s stripped of all Google services, and is made to be friendly to all including non-geeks. The foundation behind /e/ is currently selling refurbished Android flagships like the Galaxy S9 Plus coming with the OS already running on the device.
If you’re not in a position to get a phone that comes pre-installed with the OS, you can flash your current device with their ROM. Check this list to see if your phone is already supported. There’s 81 devices supported as of now, including Xiaomi and OnePlus, and the company says more devices will be supported along the way.
The default apps you’ll get with /e/ are a mail app which is a fork of K9-mail with OAuth support, an SMS app which is the privacy-focused Signal, the chat app being Telegram (or you can use Signal for chats), along with a weather app, a note app, a tasks app, and a maps app.
Gaël Duval, /e/ founder, argued in an introductory blog post that the current mobile operating system world is dominated by Apple and Google, and that Apple offers an expensive, proprietary and closed ecosystem, that offers no real guarantee on user’s data usage and privacy while Google’s business relies on user’s data collection at a global scale. He says in the post that /e/ wants to build an alternative mobile operating system that everybody can enjoy using – one that is respectful of user’s data privacy. And that they want to be known as the ethical mobile operating system.
In light of the recent Huawei issues with the US government, the foreseeable future of Huawei phones, as things stand, is that they will not have Google Services. The reasonable argument by many is that it will be hard to sell such phones as we are heavily reliant on Google Apps, and Services, and that it would be crazy to switch, or move to something that lacks that. But what if an OS can manage to convince people to try a smartphone life that lacks Google services, is very privacy-focused and runs Android Apps?
There’s a huge huge huge number of people in Africa, and across the world who are yet to own a smartphone, who don’t know anything about being tied to an ecosystem, and don’t rely on any Google services. If the next batch of entry level devices whether from other smartphone companies, or even from Huawei themselves can tap into such a potential, then the future can be of Google Services being limited to companies that choose to work directly with Google, or for the US markets only.
In a recent post I said all Android Phone Makers should be terrified of the future if they plan on continuing to make Google certified phones. Because their licences could be revoked any time, precedent is set, and their businesses could die in a day. The solution to such a situation is getting out of that reliance ASAP.
/e/ OS is currently one of the best working solutions. That you can flash it and have a working phone that doesn’t rely on Google services anymore is even sweeter if you look at it both as a solution for Android Makers looking to break the reliance, and as a privacy solution for people skeptical of Google. But the foundation wants to go even further and build an open source SDK to allow them to break the reliance on Android ecosystem.
They say they’re open on working directly with hardware makers, and refurbishing companies across the world so as to have devices come with the OS pre-loaded. And I hope soon enough we can see major companies partner with them to have the first original /e/ phones.
I am excited about this. I am very much for doing away completely with the world’s current over dependence on American tech companies. But even as I write this I keep asking myself if I am ready to give up my fixation with Google. Can I stop using Gmail? Google Keep? What about Google Assistant? Can anyone match that? What happens with my synced content?
Anyway, that I have managed to break off Google Chrome and trust Microsoft Edge points to the possibility of a totally un-googled life. Except for YouTube – I cannot live without YouTube. When you think of it, I am only on Edge because it is now Google Chromium based – but that’s an Open Source project.
Do you think you can use a smartphone without Google services? What do you think of /e/ OS? Do you think Huawei should try and do the same with their software? Or should they just partner with /e/ foundation and have all their current, and upcoming phones run /e/ OS going forward?