[Tinkerphones] ZeroPhone site offline

H. Nikolaus Schaller hns at goldelico.com
Sat Jan 1 18:52:40 CET 2022

A happy new year to everybody!

Hi Paul,
as usually a very insightful contribution and well written so that it is difficult
to add something...

> Am 30.12.2021 um 18:32 schrieb Paul Boddie <paul at boddie.org.uk>:
> On Wednesday, 29 December 2021 10:15:45 CET H. Nikolaus Schaller wrote:
>>> Am 28.12.2021 um 20:40 schrieb Martin <debacle at debian.org>:
>>> On 2021-12-28 19:35, Dr. Michael Lauer wrote:
>>>> That’s a pity. In particular with the recent Pi Zero 2 design that
>>>> could’ve been a pretty sweet alternative feature phone.
>>> My main problem with the ZP was the extremely small display.
>>> I'm just too old to be able to read it without magnifying glass.
>>> Apart from that it was a very cool phone!
>> Indeed, it was a nice and good idea for its time.
> I must admit that I was worried about the choice of Raspberry Pi hardware, 
> given the proliferation of different models with different characteristics (as 
> you discovered a while ago, Nikolaus), meaning that extra caution is required 
> even when basing a design on a particular device. And I am also not enamoured 
> by the way the Raspberry Pi initiative operates.
> But I think it was a nice idea to take something that already existed and to 
> adapt it in this way. A long time ago, the Gumstix products were used as the 
> basis for a phone-like project in a similar way:
> https://web.archive.org/web/20100127031815/http://www.gizmoforyou.net/site/
> shop/flow-g1-5.html
> Obviously, there are still going to be challenges with the physical design of 
> a device, whether it can be used and accepted, but my impression was that the 
> ZeroPhone was the first step along a particular path, so it is unfortunate 
> that perhaps that path is no longer navigable. I hope that Arsenijs is still 
> in a position to pursue such things or is at least finding something else that 
> is rewarding to pursue.

There are other "Capes" or "Hats" or how they are called adding WWAN modules
or displays. So basically it should be possible to just plug something similar
together from the RasPi ecosystem.

>> But to be curious: what would you do with a feature phone nowadays?
>> If there is a browser it is crap. Games? Banking? Navigation? Messenger?
>> My mother-in-law has one, just in case she must do a phone call.
>> There is one more: receiving SMS for banking or 2-factor authentication.
> I think society has to reconsider how technology should be used to get things 
> done. One interesting example is this:
> http://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/202x/2021/12/27/Small-Utopia
> There is a kind of consumerist mentality which starts out with people buying 
> new and shiny things, and then the mechanisms of society require everyone to 
> buy those gadgets. And instead of making the technology fit the processes, it 
> is the other way round.

Indeed. There are more and more blinkenlights everywhere and artificial
intelligence e.g. in my car or smartphone making me aware of things I don't
want to know and making it difficult to create a mental model of the connection
between something I want and how to tell it the machine. So these technologies
have a tendency to make me not the owner of the machine...

> Hence the remarks in that article about a convenient user experience that 
> lacks a lot of the traits of the modern technological experience, these traits 
> mostly amounting to frivolous visual "design" and the tendency to want to 
> monetise everything through surveillance. Although Web technologies have given 
> people flexibility, the last two or so decades have seen the indulgence of 
> wasteful and even harmful practices in delivering technological solutions.
> That this is typically excused by references to technological progress just 
> shows how little things have changed since everyone accused Microsoft and 
> Intel of conspiring to make everyone upgrade their computer every couple of 
> years. Sadly, this means that unless we recognise the fundamental social 
> dynamics of this phenomenon and encourage sustainable and considerate use of 
> technology, we will continue to see the latest smartphone being mandated for a 
> lot of people's participation in matters of commerce, governance and even 
> access to education and healthcare.
>> Next question: are there enough interested developers for writing free
>> software?
> This is where the Free Software Foundation and others simply fail to deliver. 
> We've mentioned the "Ethical Tech Giving Guide" before:
> https://www.fsf.org/givingguide/v12/
> Where are we now with that? The recommendations are to find specific models of 
> old phones and computers and to install something that hopefully works, with a 
> couple of vendors willing to sell some refurbished ThinkPads. I guess no-one 
> can source old phones reliably any more.

Yes, that is getting worse and worse. Nowadays old phones (old meaning >2 years)
more and more use fully integrated baseband plus processor so that it is difficult
to get any data sheets. So people work on Android source code releases.

> (It is interesting to go back to earlier editions of that guide by editing the 
> "v12" in the URL, going all the way back to "v6". Not that there is so much 
> variation in the offerings.)
> No-one is going to target open hardware with Free Software if no-one makes the 
> hardware.


> But the likes of the FSF have this entrenched "volunteers welcome" 
> mentality where people magically show up and do the work for free, and where 
> advocacy and enthusiasm gets you most of the way.

There is one more aspect to add which I have learned this morning. E.g. in Germany
we now have changes for the laws about customer's rights which is generally good. But
not for a volunteer or small project wanting to offer something.

Warranty rules make it impossible to compete with big scale companies who can have
lawyers to fiddle out contracts etc.

To give an example: as a vendor you must now guarantee 1 year that all offered
features are as they were offered. And there are exceptions which last 5 years.
And, you have to offer software upgrades for 2 years.

Now you may ask: yes we are doing that since 10 years for the GTA04. But:
it is not clear what you have to offer to fulfill these rules.

In addition to warranty rules, there are rules for electronic, paper, plastics and battery
recycling. Doing this correctly means paying fees to a lot of organizations before a
single unit was sold. And if the venture happens to be organized as a Ltd. or GmbH
there are also more and more rules which just cost money. Next is that tax and
export rules have been changed making small companies less efficient again.

So this limits such projects economically to sell to a small group of open and freedom
enthusiasts who would not come with contract laws and ask for warranty or return.

All others are a too high risk to be served at all. Unless you can compete and stay
on the same high level as the big companies.

As said as a consumer I am happy about these new rules, but as a small vendor
I have no idea how to fulfill them economically. It would need a bigger organization.
But organization is against the ideas of a crowd or community.

So I think society has generally changed into a direction where people can no
longer simply volunteer... There must be a balance of spending time and what they
get for.

> And the broader attitudes 
> are predictably consumerist, too: if one initiative fails then "the market" 
> will provide another to back until that fails, too. If people are encouraged 
> to do this "for the movement" then they will happily "volunteer" their time 
> and money to their own detriment, while those who could actually coordinate 
> and fund real change just squander their resources on advocacy and posturing.
> I guess this is all "broken record" talk, though, given that I apparently 
> wrote the following back at the start of this year:
> "Personally, I just see this as another reminder that any activity directed 
> towards furthering our goals must be sustainable, and that picking apparent 
> winners - a consumerist approach that one might regard as uncharacteristic for 
> an organisation like the FSF - typically fails to deliver meaningful and 
> lasting change."
> The only change I would make to that statement is that consumerism is hardly 
> uncharacteristic for an organisation that clearly cannot escape its cultural 
> context, despite being a target of wild accusations of communism, socialism 
> and all the other dirty words of American political discourse.
> I suppose that the PinePhone might show a way to a brighter future, given that 
> devices are being made and shipped, and given that there are a few different 
> software environments under active development for that hardware platform. 
> Hopefully, people will be able to refine the user experience with these 
> environments and that there will be a genuine cycle of feedback and 
> improvement that is now generally lacking on the desktop.
>> And one more thing to consider is the power demand of a non-phone-processor.
>> Especially the ∏02 needs much more energy or must be heavily underclocked
>> (if that is possible at all).
>> Even the N900 upstream kernel is wrestling with power management of the
>> good old omap3.
>> The key feature of a featurephone over a smartphone is that it can
>> run 100 hours or more in standby but wake up immediately. And all that
>> coming in a small and lightweight case with big buttons and display.
>> This combination of requirements is very difficult to achieve with
>> off-the-shelf components.
> I wonder how well the MIPS-based CPUs hold up in this regard.

Well, the jz4780 (or some jz4790) would have been a very nice chip!

> A lot has been 
> made over the years about how power efficient ARM processors are, going back 
> to the anecdote about the first one being brought up that gets retold 
> frequently in certain circles, but my impression was that the simplicity of 
> traditional MIPS cores lends itself to some very low-power designs. And even 
> if most semiconductor vendors outside of China have given up on MIPS (along 
> with the current owners of MIPS Inc., apparently), there are always its 
> successors in the form of OpenRISC (used in certain Allwinner ARM SoCs) and, 
> more prominently, RISC-V.

BTW: I just read that Imagination is jumping on the RISCV train now.

Thanks again for your deep insights and BR,

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