My home on the web, and a place for me to ponder about things.


It's been a long time since I wrote on this blag. Getting close to a year in fact. It is however, a bit fortunate in some ways that my last info-dump, was a long term overview on Apple's mobile platform from the point of view of someone steeped in the FLOSS software ecosystem. As I want to very much revisit my conclusions from that post.

Prior Conclusions

I had stated previously that things had been increasingly rocky for most, if not-all android forks; and that iOS was structurally bias against floss staples such as NextCloud and KDE Connect. Which left me feeling like a proprietary Samsung phone with most Google Apps disabled as my best option. Now coming in at close to a year later, I recant.

Issues With Samsung

It's tempting to see Samsung's services as a viable alternative to Google's. They very much can be. Samsung Pay is a seamless experience facilitating contactless payments everywhere in the United States where you can also use Google Pay for example.

However, in practice, this leads to a lot of duplication of features. With a Google Play Store barking for app updates, as well as a Samsung app store. Often times, the Samsung equivalent of services feels like a tedious extra superfluous layer tacked onto the operating system begging for one's attention.

Samsung's Galaxy Store is not full-featured enough for one to wholly rely on it, yet requires one to participate in to keep all of one's apps up to date. So disabling play for the Galaxy Store is also not functionally an option. This is bizarrely the expected experience.

I have also experienced Samsung updates, which turn on; and hid the ability to turn off Samsung marketing notifications for partner apps. Which is frankly disgustingly user hostile.

LLMs and Android

Google driven Android has always had privacy concerns and has been historically hungry for user data. However, Google has been chasing the AI bubble as terrifyingly quickly as Microsoft. With Google training its Gemini/Bard AI on user's text messages in Google Messages, and toying with letting it's AI to listen in on one's phone calls.

Samsung if also launching their own suite of AI features OS wide under the Galaxy AI moniker.

Now admittedly, some of these (but not all) are opt-in, and on-device. Many of them even have genuinely useful purposes. However, we haven't had a historically great track record of both organizations not employing dark patterns, or being wholly honest with respecting user data.

The Generative AI Craze Is Not Consumer Driven

I think it's clear to any industry observer that generative-AI is being viewed as a possible new capitalist expanse. Everyone is chasing it in a massive land rush, as not to be late to the game and cut out. As Microsoft was in the early days of the mobile phone wars.

I genuinely believe this AI features we are seeing, are not landing because of user-demand. The vast majority of companies, Google and Samsung included, are clearly throwing everything they can at the wall to see what sticks. If they fulfill a genuinely useful use case for somebody and is done in a privacy respecting way. It is quite frankly a happy accident. These features are not driven by user demand or need; and making them cohere to anyone's privacy strategy (as much as they can) is largely an afterthought. The “gamble” that generative AI is the next new thing, and fear of loosing one's position, is driving the jockeying in the market.

I don't plan to expound on that. This is the premise I proceed from. If you break from me on this; then we disagree on fundamental premises.

My Experience With It

I attempted to try out various AI art generators last year, to generate art for a role-playing game, I am currently running for a group of friends; and generally speaking I found pretty much every model lacking compared to the scene I was imagining.

I've also played with ChatGPT a handful of times out of morbid curiosity; testing “anti AI” strategies in online learning environments a handful of times.

I've otherwise not touched the thing, except for AI image upscaling, which I find useful for my day job.

If you are curious, Upscayl is a pretty fabulous FLOSS privacy respecting offline AI image upscaler.

My Reluctance To Use AI

My experiences with it are purposefully narrow. I quite frankly am not interested in even my input prompts into such bits of software, being consumed and digested to make the products better. I frankly view this as labor theft.


What I have come to conclude, is that I'm incredibly uninterested in machine learning; and sick of the whole thing. I do not care if it's useful. I don't much see the everyday value in the vast majority of the applications it is being pitched for, and I am deeply concerned about the potential environmental impacts of generative AI, it's privacy implications and the cultural impact of its hallucinations on a culture which struggles with information literacy as is.

I desperately want to opt out of it being integrated into everything. If I use it. In so far as it exists as a technology I use, I only want to have specific dedicated tools, that allow me to use it in very specific contexts, preferably offline.

Luckily, in terms of my PC, this is pretty easy to do for me. My Linux distro of choice makes it frankly a non-issue. Where I don't have to worry there. However, this means I need to leave traditional corporate controlled Android. As the AI hype machine is going to get a lot worse, before the bubble finally pops.

More on that shortly.

#google #smartphones #android #samsung #stochasticparrots #ai #eliza


I've certainly done my fair share of gnashing of teeth about smartphones. The same as anyone in floss circles. I chafe at the Apple/Google duopoly, though up until this past year largely from the Google end of things.

The average technically inclined person might read that and assume there is a short answer to this dilemma, surely you can just use a linux phone.

I'm no stranger to linux phones. The last two decades are filled with, short stints with the Openmoko Freerunner GTA02, and 8-14 month long stints with Firefox OS, on the ZTE Open. I've done a couple of long term goes with SailfishOS and mostly driven by my love of it's predecessor Maemo on the Nokia N900.

I've been keeping an eye on the various models of PinePhone in existence, and the distributions it supports. Though the consensus remains to this day “not ready for daily driving” if you like things like, working power management or not missing phone calls. I'm also not hugely into camera quality, but the camera remains mediocre or poor to most. Some of the most promising feature complete distros are also based on, rolling distributions which don't have the best track records for security or stability (sorry Manjaro fans).

Indeed, in my opinion, the two linux based mobile OSes to date who were fit to be daily drivers for consumers were Maemo and Firefox OS. This ranking is entirely personal opinion, I could go into the warts of all of these distros, but that is possibly a topic for another time.

This has left me mostly on Android by default over the years, as my fallback. In fact as far back as the HTC Dream. I also became a CyanogenMod user when official updates beyond Android 1.6 stopped. I've mostly been on unofficial ROMs when on Android ever since.

Being unhappy with the privacy violations of Google has caused me to drop a lot of their services. I don't know if I've used Google Drive outside of work this decade, for example. So I am also no stranger to deGoogled android ROMs. LineageOS + microG is something of a trusty fallback for me. One can also find me, amongst the list of backers of the original /e/OS kickstarter.

Storm Clouds For deGoogled Android

It's been clear to me that Google has become hostile to Android forks, and deGoogled ROMs. If you have any familiarity with the Android ecosystem's technically underbelly, you know what Google launched SafetyNet largely to allow developers to block or downgrade service on any unapproved Android ROMs. The community has found creative solutions around this, but most involved the use of a tool called Magisk. Google then put the lead developer of Magisk on their payroll in 2019. With SafetyNet becoming harder and harder to bypass as time passes.

More and more apps fail basic authentication these days on MicroG. Even seemingly popular apps like Hulu can no longer log in, which has been broken at this point for years. A lot of response from the overall “FLOSS enthusiasts in the pews” is simply to resort to piracy, or questions the rationale of using app X on a deGoogled phone in the first place. Though the fact remains, more and more of our culture is locked behind these apps, and if things like the /e/Foundation's /e/OS are ever going to be fit for general consumers. This must work.

In recent years I've run into a disturbing number of both social situations, and encounters with government and businesses where OEM operating systems were basically requirements, or increased friction tremendously. Where all activity was gated behind an app which fails under MicroG at login. It also seems to me our culture is moving from an expectation that everyone carry a smartphone to a culture which expects one to have a smartphone with contactless payment system, backed by a major company. Often in places, where it feels unwise to flash a contactless credit or debit card, such as when entering subway terminals.

I Mentioned iOS in the Title, Better Get Around to Talking About It

In September of last year, I decided to switch to iOS for a few reasons:

  1. I was feeling more and more, than on Android, Google's services were becoming non-optional.
  2. Apple seems like the only one in this duopoly which seems to honestly take privacy seriously.
  3. Material You was both ugly, and was partly broken on deGoogled Android 12 builds, at least initially.

I want to address a lot of thoughts I've had with iOS in the past year, now that the experiment is over. (Note: From here on out, references to Android, are largely about Googlefied Android).

The Myth That The Apple Ecosystem Will Suck You In

Apple certainly does a lot to make sure their goods and services are first class citizens and the friction to interoperate with their ecosystem is reduced wherever possible.

However, Google is the one which will harass you with emails and notifications, if you've “Forgotten” to login to Google or will harass you if you do not have all their apps installed. Or will often reinstall their apps at upgrade time, or after the first round of Google play updates.

Meanwhile, iOS quietly respects all my decisions, save for offering a free trial of iCloud.

Apple's inter-product network strength might certainly be high. However, their other products and services really are not really pushed onto you, like Google.

iOS At Least Feels More Private By Default Than Android

Coming from Android and being concerned with privacy, seeing that pop up with the “Ask App Not To Track” option is kind of intoxicating/empowering. It's still however not clear to me it eliminates all tracking, though almost certainly a vast improvement on the android experience.

In general too on Android, proprietary apps are often free to harass you or stop working when entirely when you've denied them some permission. The norm on iOS seems to be to gracefully degrade the features.

Apple and Competing Apps or Services

A lot of hay is made with Apple banning competing apps, and maybe that still goes on. However, I find the fact that how they lock down apps running in the background is the real major impediment here, at least in the present. I went to make sure KDE Connect and NextCloud had apps in iOS before making the switch. I did, however, not realize how crippled KDE, Connect would be in practice.

NextCloud's photo upload function, often seemed to not work as expected, or take hours or days to work. Though righting itself instantly if the app was launched into the foreground.

The App Store's FLOSS App Tax

Apple requiring developers to charge $100 a year, in practice, kind of works against any developer who would otherwise give away apps for gratis floss-or-not. Especially if you are a solo developer with a smaller audience.

In practice, I found a lot of smaller FLOSS apps ended up charging $1.99 or the like, to help offset the expense. In general, my sense of this, made me think this was also contributing to a lack of FLOSS apps in general. Or weird situations where third parties would build paid wrappers for FLOSS apps. See SyncThing Mobius. Leading to scenarios where I would be paying someone who wasn't a developer of SyncThing for the privilege of running it.

I believed this to contribute to weird scenarios where things I expected to be able to acquire a type of app for free, or at least to be able to purchase as onetime payments, were actually being sold in the App Store as subscription services. See the ecosystem of VPN based add blockers.) Which contributed to an overall feeling of being “nickel and dimed.”

The Weird State of Ad-Blocking on iOS

Apple has come into modernity in some places. Letting people choose their default browser, for example. However, the official WebKit API on iOS to implement ad blocking is still locked to iOS. Many ad blockers exist in the App Store, but in practice they can only be used with Safari, unless they do some networking tomfoolery, such as act as VPNs.

This means in practice if you want ad blocking in a third party browser, the browser has to either implement its own ad blocking in the browser, else never having the feature. Firefox on iOS having no extensions, nor built in ad blocking is therefore set between a rock and a hard place. Despite using WebKit on iOS.


In general, fundamentally, iOS is a good proprietary OS. In a lot of ways I preferred its clean design, and in a lot of ways it's more respectful of user choices than proprietary Android.

At the end of the day, though, I need a phone day to day that is going to work with NextCloud right now, and I chafed strongly at the lack of KDE Connect. I also found myself often finding the ecosystem of FLOSS apps on iOS anemic compared to Android. These were my biggest drivers for leaving iOS.

I still desire a Google free option. For the moment, I find myself on a stock Samsung device, with all the Google apps disabled at the moment.

#apple #google #smartphones #ios #android #linux #linuxphones #privacy #floss