Smartphones are becoming more customizable. While projects like LineageOS (the successor to the now-defunct CyanogenMod project) have provided bloatware-free Android ROMs for popular phones—often with version updates for phones long since abandoned by the manufacturer—there are few phones that have the option of flashing a completely different OS. However, for devices with manufacturers that support unlockable bootloaders and software development, the possibility for commercial customization is much greater.
SEE: Ebook—Reducing the risks of BYOD in the enterprise (TechRepublic)
Sony—a major Android OEM in Japan and Europe—supports devices through the Open Devices Program, providing step-by-step instructions to unlock the bootloader, as well as build the Linux kernel and Android Open Source Project (AOSP) ROMs for flagship Sony phones. Taking advantage of this, Jolla, the group of ex-Nokia employees responsible for Sailfish OS, announced Sailfish X, a distribution of Sailfish for the Sony Xperia X.
As a quick refresher, Sailfish OS is a fork of Mer, itself a fork of MeeGo, which was originally a combination of Moblin and Maemo. Official distributions of Sailfish OS includes the Alien Dalvik runtime to provide compatibility with Android apps. Jolla had produced a phone, and an ill-fated tablet, after which the company focused on licensing Sailfish OS to hardware makers. So far, devices shipping with Sailfish are limited to boutique devices like the Turing Phone, and in developing countries with the mi-Fone and INOI R7.
For $59.55 USD (€ 49.90), users receive a flashable image of Sailfish OS for the Sony Xperia X, instructions for flashing, as well as software updates for one year, and customer support. Plans have not been announced for updates past the one-year window. At launch, this process requires a computer that runs Linux, which given the target market, does not seem as if this would be a significant encumbrance. The initial release will not include support for Bluetooth, FM Radio, fingerprint scanning, or device sensors like a barometer or a pedometer.
Sailfish X can be ordered starting on September 27, 2017, though Jolla plans to have the installable image ready "by October 11."
While Sailfish has not achieved a particular market visibility in the US, the OS has been licensed to the Russian organization Open Mobile Platform Ltd., as "part of Russia's long-term objective to create a more independent IT ecosystem for the country." Additionally, Sailfish is "currently the only mobile operating system which has been officially certified to be used in governmental and government controlled corporations' upcoming mobile device projects."
BlackBerry selling Android to OEMs
In a somewhat peculiar move, BlackBerry is reportedly in talks with OEMs to make available its BlackBerry Secure distribution of Android. This is apparently a separate business plan than its partnership with TCL, which released the BlackBerry KEYone smartphone this year. BlackBerry has similar licensing agreements with Optiemus for the Indian market, and BB Merah Putih in Indonesia.
BlackBerry bought QNX Software Systems, the creator of the QNX OS, in 2010. QNX served as the basis for the BlackBerry 10 OS, which was intended to act as the third pillar to Android and iOS. While active development of BB10 ended in 2016, QNX is still developed as a solution for embedded systems. BlackBerry Secure is apparently being positioned for much the same market.
SEE: Mastering Android Programming (TechRepublic Academy)
Given that Android is technically open source, and following the high-profile failure of Cyanogen, Inc. to sell Android to OEMs, the move does seem rather questionable. The report from the Times of India indicated that plans include using Android on medical devices, televisions, and wearables. Again, considering that Android TV and Android Wear are both existing platforms, and considering the advances in security made in the recently-released Android 8.0, the purpose of this plan seems suspect.
- How Google hopes to finally solve the Android update problem with Treble (TechRepublic)
- BlackBerry KEYone review: A niche device for business users clamoring for physical keys (ZDNet)
- Android Oreo: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
- Android nears 88% global market share, but Apple still makes more money (TechRepublic)
- Mobile Device Computing Policy (Tech Pro Research)
- Job description: Android developer (Tech Pro Research)
What's your take?
Do you often install custom ROMs on your phone? Have you bought a low-cost tablet like an HP TouchPad or Amazon Kindle Fire to flash a custom ROM? Do you use an alternative phone OS like Windows Phone, Tizen, Firefox OS, or Sailfish in an effort to avoid the Android and iOS duopoly? Share your experience in the comments.
James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.