Where do I go when the biggest company in the world gives up
I purchased a Google Pixel 3a XL a number of years ago, wanting to have a long-term supported Android device. I thought the Pixel would be a decent device for that purpose, but recently I was made aware (or at least reminded) that my Pixel would soon run out of software support coming in May 2022.
Well, shoot. Where do I go from here?
This has been a very traditional theme of Android for a very long time, so much that even when Google tried announcing Project Treble back in 2017, it failed spectacularly. The Android operating system is still incredibly fragmented, and we still see headlines of major manufacturers of Android phones only barely bringing their "flagship" devices up to the latest Android version.
Apple iPhone users will simply laugh and mock at how horrific the Android ecosystem truly is; phones are horrendously outdated across the world, and the only way to get true Apple-like continuous software updates is by drinking the Google punch and buying one of their devices. However, because Google is one of the largest companies in the world, it doesn't always mean it's going to be a pleasant ride.
Ever since the early days of the first ever Pixel, Google has left thousands of users in the dark with their horrible customer support. Even so much as going back to the days of the Nexus 5, Google has always treated it's customers as guinea pigs trying to sell a vision of something much larger, like a unified home front where you can interact through your phone to talk to smart devices throughout your household.
However, the only story I can see being told is that Google is slowly losing it's edge over time. The most recent case I can think of is where Google recently rolled back features of it's home assistants because it infringed on patents of Sonos, refused to pay royalties, and then gave it's users the middle finger. Users pay for these cool features, and then because Google infringed on patents without users knowing, rolled back features? This is terrible business, and shady as hell. You would think a multi-billion dollar company would know when it's infringing on patents when it has armies of lawyers and engineers on payroll.
Even with my latest Android 12 experience, where the only way I can really describe it as "pointless and buggy", I wasn't feeling very satisfied. I am trying to find myself less attached to my phone, as it is only really used for "doomscrolling" at this point, the art of endlessly scrolling down newsfeeds or Reddit.
I need to re-think my interactions with my phone.
On so many levels, I don't agree with the current tech life that we must throw phones away every 3-5 years. It doesn't make sense to me. We've reached a point where CPUs have not improved that vastly, and even if they did, they're bogged down by the OS to preserve for battery life. My phone's CPU can be amazing, but if it's not plugged in, it's basically as useful as a phone from a few years ago.
And on another level, I certainly don't like the fact that phones must be vendor-locked into the equivalent pieces of software. An Android is native to Google services, an Apple is native to Apple services. Other services are either second-hand, or poorly supported due to the lack of popularity. That being said, there are gems that stand out, thanks to the support of their users who believe in good honest computer-oriented causes, like OpenStreetMap.
The reality is that living on the internet isn't necessarily free, and if you use free services, the user is always the product. Everything starts with having an e-mail account, and because of how spam detection rings work, only the elite and true e-mail hosters are considered valid, non-spam e-mail hosters. Most people will defer to Yahoo, Microsoft, or Google. Other options exist like Fastmail or ProtonMail, but hosting your own e-mail, if you wanted to, is simply asking for a world of hurt.
Next is how do you deal with cloud synchronization of files on all your independent-acting devices? You may collection a thousand photos on your phone, but how do you begin to move them somewhere, where other devices can access them easily? This is where iCloud and Google get their kicks, because they spend thousands of man-hours figuring out how to do this for you, to make the experience more "magical". The reality is you need to run your own hardware, or defer it to the "cloud" experts.
Google and Apple are kings of these industries, because no one actually wants to do any of this busy-work at scale. On the scale of how large most corporations can be, no one wants to spend time figuring out how to delegate files over large shakey networks to be able to serve users in a meaningful capacity. Google fleshed out years of code and gave users Google Drive and all the Google office tools they needed, but that created a vendor lock-in for all these companies. The minute Google says they need to pay another dollar-per-user, the companies have to eat the cost and agree with everything.
I don't like a world where my tech life hangs in the balance of Google's palms. It doesn't feel great at all. One year my phone is super awesome, next year it's barely as functional, then the next it's going to be effectively abandoned by it's manufacturer.
The only thing I can think of is going my own way.
PostmarketOS is the system I have the most faith in currently. It's promise is to keep electronics alive long after their death, and I suspect PMOS may get more popular in the coming years due to the fact that, well, more electronics keep getting abandoned.
The idea is to install a Linux system that you truly own on the hardware you own. They get an Alpine Linux install on your system, then the rest of the system is yours to decide. No more apps, microtransactions, or worries about paying for cloud fees unless you really wanted to - the device is no different than that of a desktop computer. No extra gimmicks included.
Once you get PostmarketOS on your phone, it's a basic Alpine Linux, so many packages will work for it out of the box, give or take depending on the application support from the kernel layer. Some glitches could happen, but glitches can happen literally anywhere else, this is not something unique to only PostmarketOS after all.
Android app compatibility is the only other thing to worry about - but in all honesty, would I miss Android apps that much? The reality is, I most likely will not. Android apps are almost always designed to suck as much money out from the end-user as much as possible. Microtransactions in gaming is so popular, that I would be hard-pressed to find a popular, well-supported game with lots of updates that didn't have some form of microtransactions. My issue is I simply want to play a game, and not feel like I'm only viewed as a money pinata.
Things like Instagram, or Signal, well, Signal is an open-source client named axolotl, but Instagram is not something I need in my life. Technically neither is Discord - Discord is just another service layer with aims at turning free users into paid ones, by any means necessary. They will also cut features the minute they are able to.
The goal would be to create and have a true Linux environment on my phone that I can at least have to make phone calls, text messages, and sometimes go on the web with. Games are simply fluff at this point on a mobile device, and can lead to the destruction of the battery even quicker.
I want to find more ways of being productive on the phone, so PostmarketOS would be a start. If not, because of how tiny Postmarket's community is, I may have to look into things like LineageOS to get a working system in place. I want to be involved with Postmarket, but if my phone doesn't boot, oh well, I tried.
The next step would be to replace all the Google services I hardly use with something I would actually be excited about using. Google Drive is so boring and stale that nothing about it motivates me to use it more. I like writing, drawing, and trying to be productive, but nothing about Google Drive encourages me to do any of those.
The next step would require me to think long-term about how I store files and interact with my data. I have photos, I have movies, and I have games. How do I synchronize all of these tiny, small moving parts into one system that makes sense?
I have given thought, and it might be time for me to try using [Nextcloud] as the ultimate end-goal. Nextcloud is essentially an open-sourced version of Google Drive, with many cool tools, and easy to share with friends to create a private working home network. Photos can be stored, todo lists can be made, calendars and contacts can be saved, it's a lot like having a digital assistant that can do many things. I would like to include some other layers into the server, but Nextcloud is a start.
I need to make sure I am in control of my data, and I don't lose anything to the likes of Google. I have to put the effort to put the computing back in my hands, and in the future, assist friends and family as well.
I have already had a rocky dislike of Google. I think they have good things, but the company itself is slowly turning into crap. I dreamed once of working there, but after all the staff walk-outs, protests, shitty upper-management statements and press releases defending themselves, I really don't think they have the best interests in mind of everyone. For them to be as big as they are, they have to break a lot of eggs to make a large omelette. I don't want to be an egg.
Here is my gameplan for the next few upcoming weeks. Mentally it is starting to overwhelm me with how much I have on my plate, so I want to make some slow steady progress. But this is what it's looking like for me going forward.
1. Replace the Google Android OS on my Pixel 3a XL with ... something
2. Create a basic Nextcloud server with NixOS
3. Integrate my devices with Nextcloud apps/webpages
4. Organize my data (messy)
5. Add Mediatomb to the NixOS server for basic UPnP media streaming
6. Figure out how to do RAID drive management (this should go first, but)
If anyone else has a Google Pixel and is looking to move away from things, while not immediately hopping onto Apple, please contact me and share any plans you may have. Thanks for reading!
I forgot entirely about this other thing that Google started - Fuschia. When Fuschia was announced/leaked, it seemed like Google invested time into building a new OS and Kernel layer that deviated from Linux and the Android Java runtime VM. It was rumored that this new unikernel in development would be Google's way of defeating Linux and Oracle (the makers of Java) forever.
However, since it's release in 2016, not much has seemed to come of this. There were teaser screenshots of it in action, as if someone had downloaded it and booted into it as a system, but it's only in-the-world use of it was for a Google Nest Hub. Since then, there has been no real traction, so this does not seem to be the way for us to get a new type of phone kernel in any capacity. Oh well.