What we really need is an open smartphone

What we really need is an open smartphone
This image: CC0 by cybrkyd

It boggles the mind as to how we have grown accustomed to having an inaccessible device in our hands and pockets all day. Why do we continue to tolerate and support smartphone manufacturers in their efforts to track us and mine our data?

When comparing a smartphone to a laptop, for example, the laptop allows full access to its core system and files. The laptop owner can easily install any compatible software and can go so far as to replace the entire operating system. Yet, when it comes to our smartphones, we are denied those same rights.

The problem with today’s smartphones

It’s a perfect setup. Any mass-market smartphone is sold with its inbuilt operating system. When the next model is released, it too is sold with its own inbuilt operating system. The clock then starts to tick, counting down to the day when that version of the operating system is no longer supported by the smartphone manufacturer.

This is unacceptable from an end-user and a device-owner perspective. We are essentially forced to upgrade our hardware even if there is nothing wrong with it. Not upgrading means losing access to any future security updates at bare minimum. Users can also lose access to basic services such as banking or medical services if, in turn, app developers also choose to drop support for an older version of the operating system.

The environmental impact of so much obsolete hardware is also starting to become apparent.1

Locked out, excluded and exploited

Smartphones do not allow users to access certain areas of the operating system. A smartphone owner cannot, for example, choose to load Android onto an iPhone. Many banking applications will not install or run on a rooted or unlocked device due to safety reasons.2 3 4

We are sold the idea that the phone is locked to protect us. Yet, on the other hand, we still see instances of viruses and rogue apps having their way with the data on our devices. And let’s not forget Apple’s Orwellian scanning of photos.5

I suggest that this is all very much intentional. Smartphones exist as a tool to harvest human data. They track us, log us and advertise to us. Far from being a convenient, portable pocket computer, they exist for one purpose: commerce. We own them because they make a lot of money for someone else by feeding them data.

The smartphone v2.0

What the world really needs is a smartphone with an open source operating system. We need a phone (the hardware) that is not married to it’s operating system.

I’m proposing a model similar to the Microsoft Windows one; Microsoft makes the operating system and any manufacturer can make the hardware to run that system.

The owner of that hardware can install any operating system they choose. No restrictions.

We already have a massive choice of operating systems available which are capable of running on a miniature device.

Alas, we are plentiful in silicone but somewhat short in the supply of grey matter.

  1. Deloitte Insights: Making smartphones sustainable: Live long and greener (21 December 2021) ↩︎

  2. Barclays: Why can’t I register for the Barclays app or other apps on a rooted or jailbroken mobile? ↩︎

  3. Lloyds: Why can’t I use a jailbroken or rooted device to use the new Mobile Banking app? ↩︎

  4. HSBC: Maintain your device ↩︎

  5. Apple: PDF Expanded Protections for Children, Frequently Asked Questions (August 2021) ↩︎

See also