The PinePhone Is an Open-Source, Community Developed iOS and Android Competitor

A new community-developed smartphone is hoping to disrupt a smartphone industry dominated by Android and iOS operating systems.

Called the PinePhone postmarketOS Community Edition, the device will be available for preorder starting in July 2020 at a cost of $150, and runs a version of Linux. Though still in a development stage, its creators say that the goal is to make a smartphone that lasts longer and is free of the Android/iOS duopoly.

The PinePhone postmarketOS Community Edition is the result of a partnership between community-driven tech manufacturer Pine64 and postmarketOS—a Linux-based operating system designed for mobile devices.

Oliver Smith, lead developer of postmarketOS, said he began working on the Linux-based operating system in 2016, to help address what he says is the problem of smartphones having too short a lifecycle.

“It was common for most Android vendors to only provide updates for two years, and after these you were either forced to buy a new phone or to keep using a phone that does not get security updates anymore,” Smith told Motherboard in an email. “With Apple, you get five years of support. But you are pushed to buying another iPhone through other means—the scandal of artificially reducing the CPU power on older devices via updates is just one example.”

Smith said this led him to want to create a system that could be used to support devices as long as possible.

“We share as much code between all devices, as possible, by taking the traditional package based approach from desktop Linux distributions. Each piece of software is in a tiny package, and devices just have one or two packages of their own, where all the device specific code lives,” Smith said.

The result is coding that can be used and updated by many devices. Because it is open source, anyone can use the software, study the source code, modify it, and redistribute it.

“Just imagine being able to change everything in the apps to your liking,” Smith said.

It’s worth noting that there have been many attempts to create mobile OSes that are more open than Android and iOS. Many of them have had short life cycles, weren’t adopted by many users, or both. Even huge companies like BlackBerry and Microsoft have had to fold their operating systems because they weren’t competitive. Nonetheless, creating a competitor to Android and iOS is a laudable goal, and it’s great that there are still groups working to bring alternatives to the public.

“We can definitively show that there are other ideas to approaching smartphone operating systems, which give the user more control, freedom, privacy and security,” Smith said. “Getting a very tiny slice of the smartphone market may be possible in some distant future. But one miracle at a time, we are still in beta after all.”

The partnership with Pine64 came after Smith met the company’s CEO at a conference in 2018, creating an opportunity to work together in the development of the PinePhone postmarketOS Community Edition.

Though specifications for the hardware of the phone haven’t yet been released, features on previous PinePhones have included a modem separated from the main CPU, a removable battery, a bootable micro SD slot, and a headphone jack that doubles as a serial port.

The phone is still in a development stage, and according to the blog post announcing its arrival, the phone will have basic smartphone functionality such as the ability to take phone calls, SMS, mobile data, Wi-Fi and a touch friendly user interface.

“As of writing, there are too many bugs to provide a reasonable user experience. We will fix as much as we can over the next weeks, until the device is shipped to everyone who has pre-ordered. More fixes and improvements will become available over time through software updates,” the blog post read.