Ubuntu for Phones + Fair Phone?

13 Mar

Ubuntu for Phones

This is an article I posted a while ago on my other blog. Now that goFLOSS! exists, it really belongs here, in an updated extended version!

Days ago, Ubuntu for Phones was announced to the masses. If for some reason you dodged the constant flow of articles and videos about it, you can start from the official launch keynote in which Mark Shuttleworth presents the product in order to start working with phone manufacturers.

A few days later, I discovered – via a post on Diaspora* – the FairPhone, an amazing project that aims at delivering a smartphone that is sustainably and ethically produced.

FairPhone | FairPhone brings a fair smartphone to the market – one made of parts produced and utilised without harming individuals or the environment..

As I read on the project’s website’s FAQ, they are considering selling it with Firefox OS but state that it is more likely that it will end up with Android preinstalled, as they are looking for a rock-solid operating system. Here is what they say:

We think transparency and open source design/hard/software are key to create a fair phone. Our approach though is a growing model. We have to take these things step-by-step and that means we have to work pragmatically. We can’t say how open the first model will be, as we don’t have that much influence (yet) as a small player on the design and manufacturing, but it is in our roadmap to make it radically open.

Regarding the OS we were thinking about launching it with Firefox OS, but we also have to balance between stability and openness. As we are a new product, we don’t want to take too many risks on this. We want to offer a very stable product for our customers, so we might wait until Firefox has proven itself and probably use Android for the first model. We also want a system that supports Dual Sim (Android does; Firefox doesn’t), as this is in line with our vision (less phones, more value in second-life markets like Africa).

FairPhone concept

As I try to promote sustainable practices as well as OpenSource alternatives, I was very excited about those two stories, and I started imagining a FairPhone running Ubuntu for Phones. In order to know more about it, I decided to send them an email concerning the recent news that thrilled most of the Ubuntu community. Here is the response I got from Joe Mier, their Community Manager:

Hey Stéphane,

Thanks for your support!

That’s a good question about Ubuntu and what operating system we will use. It’s something we are still considering but let me tell you what we’re thinking about so far.

You’ve probably already read on our website how we are considering Firefox OS, but prefer Android because of its emphasis on stability and openness for our initial run of smartphones. Aside from that, we are planing to launch the phone with root access for the user, so they can decide for themselves which operating system they want to install (though, apart from the custom Android ROMs, they will probably have to write some code themselves to make it work with the hardware). Another option we are currently looking into is to launch the phone with Android, but fully prepare the FairPhone for Ubuntu. Ubuntu uses the same linux kernel as Android and can therefore be “easily” installed on any Android device.

Here’s a quick news item about some things to keep in mind about Ubuntu on mobile:

Thanks again for your questions! If you haven’t already, sign up for future news on the FairPhone: http://www.fairphone.com/register-for-the-fairphone/

All the best,

FairPhone Community Manager

It is good to hear that the Fair Phone will be designed with openness in mind, and that it will be very hackable in order to let the user choose their favourite OS.

They plan to start the production of the FairPhone in the third quarter of 2013, with a limited number of phones pre-sold before then. If you don’t want to miss out, make sure you subscribe to their newsletter on their website.


On the 28th of February, Tessa Wernink from Fair Phone posted some news about Fair Phone’s quest for an operating system on their website, as they were visiting the Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona.

In fact, they made it clear that their choice will be Android for their first device in order to deliver a very stable product. But they did meet people from Mozilla, Jolla and Canonical and are definitely looking into working with them to deliver a product that is compatible with those new OSes.

Here’s to the future of smartphones! A more open, ethical and sustainable future.

10 Responses to “Ubuntu for Phones + Fair Phone?”

  1. 3arn0wl 2014-07-05 at 08:33 #

    I think FairPhone were probably right to go with Android in the first instance, for the fact that it’s a tried and stable OS. Now that Ubuntu is becomming a reality, perhaps we will see it ported onto a FairPhone. Best solution of all ofcourse, would be Ubuntu on a FairPhone Phablet, but that’s not on the horizon yet.

    • chtfn 2014-07-22 at 02:20 #

      It is true that it was a safer option. Canonical are know to announce things and then either forget about them or push it to later.
      I really hope Fairphone keeps growing, and I am looking forward to seeing what their Fairphone 2 will look like!

      • 3arn0wl 2014-07-22 at 08:09 #

        Whilst Ubuntu has been stable on phones for a while now, it’s still not really come to fruition yet – even the first phones that come with it on are targeted towards enthusiasts: that’s not what FairPhone needed at the time.

        Last time I asked, this batch of FairPhone was the same as the last. IF they are interested in running Ubuntu, the device will need lots of memory and RAM too.

        I know they’ve recieved a lot of calls for a tablet (and with the cancellation of the Vivaldi tablet, there’s definitely a place in the market), but my hopes are still for a 6″, ethical phone (running Ubuntu, obvs ;) ).

  2. chtfn 2014-07-22 at 09:49 #

    Well, the fact that Fairphone is open makes it easy to put Ubuntu on it, which is exciting.
    I know the second batch is exactly the same model, I was thinking of whatever will come up in 2015. I really hope they can be sustainable and show everyone that this kind of thing is possible, even with so much pressure from the market! :)
    Tablet would be nice, let’s hope the completely converged Ubuntu gets more attention and becomes usable for average users before 2016 – that would be a game changer I’d say…

    • 3arn0wl 2014-07-22 at 10:13 #

      :) I agree 100%.

      iirc one of the kickers for FairPhone was to show that it was possible to produce an ethical phone, but I don’t know how influential they’ve actually been. I was thinking that one of the best things they could be doing is shouting: “Hey Guys – if you want to build ethically sourced devices, let us show you where we got stuff from.” i.e. sort-of going back to their roots. (I’m not saying that they shouldn’t build equipment: I think small runs of *what customers are asking for* is ethical too – people might keep a device longer if it’s tailored to their requirements (the PhoneBloks concept, I guess).

      • chtfn 2014-07-24 at 07:17 #

        Yeah, if the phone-selling activity doesn’t work out for them, they could become a certification body for OEMs and brands! Good point.
        But so far, I am still confident they can keep going for a while (even though their sales are slowing down a bit, they have sold half of the second batch – I guess it’s not too bad, it started two months ago).
        I don’t want to sound negative, but I feel like at the moment, and especially with phones, it is difficult to be influential if the market share is negligible… We need more people to be happy to pay 20% extra to have something produced ethically, and it is something very difficult to see happening in a consumerist individualistic society…

      • 3arn0wl 2014-07-24 at 08:04 #

        You’re absolutely right of course – phone manufacturers, with the market as lethal as it is, won’t want to charge an extra 20%, & consumers won’t want to pay an extra 20% either. Perhaps what’s missing is an overaeching body that says that manufacturers *have to* use carefully sourced, ethically produced goods. I was hoping that FairPhone might be awarded FairTrade status – but apparently, that’s not feasible either.

        I was surprised when FairPhone said that the second batch was going to be just the same as the first: the smartphone market being furious for the next upgrade… I guess the idea was that they were trying to educate customers out of that cycle – but then, why not produce less specced phone?

  3. chtfn 2014-07-26 at 03:45 #

    How come they could not get the Fair Trade label?
    I guess they had to do a second batch of the same specced phones to make sure they had enough money to keep going, make the first model worth it. Maybe in the next cycles they will have a public large enough to be able to release a new model each time.

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