Is /e/ good or bad for mobility?

Find out why this new mobile operating system will make some Android users very happy.

Image: Jack Wallen

Android is one of the most widely-used platforms on the planet. iOS is one of the most widely-used mobile operating systems in the United States. For the most part, those two platforms are all the world needs to cover their mobile usage. A few other operating systems attempted to steal a piece of that pie such as Ubuntu Touch, WebOS, Windows OS, Tizen, Plasma Mobile, LineageOS, eelo, Sailfish, and others. But none of those operating systems managed to gain enough traction to really make a mark in the global mobile market.

So, when yet another mobile OS arrives on the scene, the first thing I ask is: Why. Any small company attempting to take on the two juggernauts of the industry must know that they are about to face an insurmountable uphill battle. If you start looking into /e/, you start to understand why this is needed.

Can it succeed? Will it be good or bad for mobility? Let's unpack this.

SEE: Mobile app development policy (Tech Pro Research)

The big question: Why?

Why does /e/ need to exist? To answer, we must understand what exactly /e/ is. First off, /e/ was created by Gaël Duval (the developer who brought us Mandrake Linux in 1998). Duval became discontent with Android because (from his blog):

"...I'm not happy because Google has become too big and is tracking us by catching a lot of information about what we do. They want to know us as much as possible to sell advertizing."

Duval felt like he had become a product of Google. The answer was simple: Create a new platform. Said platform is /e/. Basically /e/ is Android without the Google bits.

Take Android and strip out:

  • The default applications (Gmail, Messages, etc.).
  • The default account manager.
  • Google Over The Air (OTA) updates.
  • Default Google search engine.
  • All Google services (such as Google Play Store, Drive, Docs, Calendar, etc.).

With these bits stripped out, replace them with:

  • K-9 Mail.
  • Signal.
  • Telegram.
  • /e/ Services (for accounts, mail, calendar, notes, etc.).
  • /e/ OTA updates.
  • Searx search engine.
  • /e/ Cloud (based on Nextcloud).

You still have Android, but it's been washed away of all things Google. And that is why /e/ has come into being, to have a Google-free Android platform.

Should you eventually want to test /e/ (it's not possible yet, you need a supported Android device) follow these steps, and remember to backup all of your data before attempting this:

  1. Get an account (apply for an account here).
  2. Unlock the bootloader for your device (how this is accomplished will depend upon your device).
  3. Install a recovery app such as TWRP.
  4. Boot into recovery mode.
  5. Format and erase some partitions.
  6. Push the device-specific /e/ image to your device.
  7. Install the image to your device
  8. Reboot

The specific installation and documentation for the process can be found here (although the installation process is yet to go live).

SEE: Job description: Android developer (Tech Pro Research)

The bigger question: Should they bother?

Anyone attempting to go up against Android and iOS has a massive undertaking on their hands. And although what /e/ is doing is noble, my bigger question is: Should they do this? Although some people would love to use Android without the Googly bits, those people are in a vast minority. Why? Because Android without Google becomes a bit more complicated than the average user wants.

Consider this: The average Android user uses Google services (Gmail, Calendar, Drive, and Photos). These services make the mobile experience incredibly easy. Top that off with the fact that most people understand how the Google services work. They know how to use Drive, Calendar, Gmail, Photos, etc. because Google spent a great deal of time making them easy to use for end users.

Now, consider the idea of any given average Android user switching from, say, Drive to a Nextcloud-like cloud storage service. Don't get me wrong, Nextcloud is one of the finest on-premises cloud servers on the planet. It's powerful, flexible, and usable. But on the mobile platform, the two most important features for a cloud storage tool is ease-of-use and integration. Without those two bits front and center, users will balk--and balk loudly. So this begs the question, can /e/ create a cloud platform as easy to use (and well integrated) as Google Drive?

That's not to say the developers at /e/ cannot create a user-friendly, integrated cloud storage platform, but will end users be instantly familiar with it? That will be a crucial factor in deciding if users will adopt the platform. And given how afraid of change the average user is, I'm thinking it's going to be one challenging task. In the end, I believe what /e/ will accomplish is making a very small portion of the Android user base very happy, and the remaining users won't even know /e/ exists.

SEE: Vendor comparison: Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS, and Google Cloud (Tech Pro Research)

The biggest question: Will they succeed?

The final question is: Will they succeed? I believe /e/ will, in the end, accomplish one very important thing: They'll prove Android can exist without Google. Does this need to be proved? For some, the answer is a definitive yes. Because, as I mentioned, there are some who want Android, minus the Google touch.

For the landscape of mobility, the answer is most certainly, yes. Why? Because it further proves that open source software has its place in the mobile market, and it might even open a few eyes as to how Google has (as Duval states) turned users into their very own product.

However, will it succeed with the average mobile user? Not so much. Why? Because they truly don't care. The average user just wants a phone that works without jumping through an inordinate amount of hoops. Unfortunately, platforms like /e/ (at least in their current incarnation) will probably have a few too many hoops for the average users' taste.

When the tide washes away all the questions, doubt, and wonder, I believe /e/ will land itself with a very small, but very dedicated following of Android users tired of being tied to Google services.

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By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....