Buy an iPhone and you might get 4-5 years of official software updates. Android phones typically get 1-3 years of updates… if they get any updates at all. But there are ways to breathe new life into some older Android phones.

If you can unlock the bootloader, you may be able to install a custom ROM like LineageOS and get unofficial software updates for a few more years.

The folks behind postmarketOS want to go even further: they’re developing a Linux-based alternative to Android with the goal of providing up to 10 years of support for old smartphones.

That’s the goal anyway. Right now the developers have only taken the first steps.

Right now postmarketOS is a touch-friendly operating system based on Alpine Linux that runs on a handful of devices including the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Google Nexus 4, 5, and 7 (2012), and several other Samsung, HTC, LG, Motorola, and Sony smartphones. There are also ports for some non-Android phones such as the Nokia N900 and work-in-progress builds for the BlackBerry Bolt Touch 9900 and Jolla Phone.

Note that when I say the operating system runs on those devices, I basically mean it boots. Some phones only have network access via a USB cable, for instance. None of the devices can actually be used to make phone calls.

But here’s the cool thing: the developers are hoping to create a single kernel that works with all supported devices, which means that postmarketOS would work a lot like a desktop operating system, allowing you to install the same OS on any smartphone with the proper hardware. You might still need a bit of custom code for each device, but a shared kernel should make porting postmarketOS to new devices a lot simpler.

At this point the developers behind postmarketOS are a long way from creating a fully functional OS that works on a single phone, let alone an operating system that will provide a decade of software updates for dozens of different devices. But it’s a laudable goal that could help keep your aging phones useful (and secure) long after your phone maker stops pushing official updates.

via /r/Android and Bhushan Shah



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20 replies on “Linux-based postmarketOS project aims to give smartphones a 10-year lifecycle”

  1. I wish I could do some fitness will the 4 old lumia phones I currently have. Also my old oneplus one just sits in a drawer. Screen pops out a little bit and microphone has issues. Idk what to do with all these old phones.

  2. “Buy an iPhone and you might get 3-4 years of official software updates.”

    Correctly: buy the new iPhone on release day and you get exactly 5 years of software support with a long standing track record.

    1. Hmm, looks like 4-5 years is probably more accurate. There have been a few that didn’t get 5 years, and even when an old phone does get the latest software it doesn’t necessarily get all the same features that are available to newer models. But I’ll update that line.

      1. You need to update the Android phones typically line as well.

        Because the majority of Android phones (>80%) get no updates, at no time.
        Minority of Android phones (<15%) get minor updates, and usually for less than 10 months.
        The niche of Android phones (<5%) get updates, and support usually around 14 months.
        Even Google has occasionally dropped support for its own Nexus devices for less than 3 years, that's how you know, something isn't quite right.

        Android ecosystem was never designed to be updatable like Windows or OS X.
        It was designed to be appealing for mass adoption.
        I believe Google can make a closed-ecosystem (or controlled open-source) similar to how Windows operates, however, there's not much incentive for it. And it would require a complete restructure/rewrite of the entire system. Hence, we probably will not see it, at least not until 2030 from my estimation.

        1. Agree with everything you said but that last line, so funny, because it feels sooo far away.

          2030 (13 years from now) is like a century away in the real world. Consider that Google bought Android in 2005. Three years later, in 2008 the first phone came out (HTC Dream). By 2010 (5 years), Android controlled 33% of the smartphone market. A year later, they owned 52.5%. A year after that… 75% (source: wikipedia: Android)

          You are right about incentive. It simply isn’t there. But if it was…

        2. Throwing out statistics with no basis are we?
          What brands of phones do you think we are running, here. In my area I have seen a non iPhone or Samsung galaxy about twice in the wild. I know Samsung Galaxy S series does get at least security updates for 3 years and also LG G series, having owned both. This is on Tmobile. No it may not be in lockstep with the raw AOSP monthly patch but I think we’ll survive. I believe the carriers do keep an eye on practical serious exploits like stagefright, as they do not want to deal with compromised devices on their network either, I am sure.
          Anyway, just wanted to make that point. Its understood that iPhones are updated for 4 years (one model got to the 5th year). I have no issues with people going with iPhones.

          Also, even with windows updateable, we are seeing serious effects of hackings around the world, but not smartphones. I would much rather have my primary device a “non updated” android than a fully updated windows PC. Please note that much of the android attack surface is updatable automatically, as in webview and continual updating of play protect monitoring and google services. iOS does not have this capability, has to wait for full, time consuming OS upgrade. I am just saying its not apples to apples comparisons.

  3. Since long term security and bug updates are important to me, I switched to an iPhone last Winter. Does the same thing as my Android phone so so far so good.

    Wish these guys luck. Although, it seems even if a phone company hopes to support their phone long term, they’re still limited by the closed off proprietary ARM SoCs. Pretty much anything associated with ARM isn’t likely to get long term support unless you don’t mind losing functionality of your device (ie. making calls, having a working screen, using WiFi, etc.).

    1. “Does the same thing as my Android phone so so far so good.”

      No it doesn’t. What I think you meant to say is ‘I don’t do much with my Android phone, so it works out about the same.” Example: widgets. iOS has nothing like it. No sorry, Notification isn’t close. The ability to arrange icons how you want them. The ability to remove icons you’re not interested in seeing on the desktop.

      Sure, your use pattern may be minimal enough to work with iOS.. but most Android users went with it because.. well price mainly, but freedom to make the phone work the way the user wants, not make the use work the way the phone wants.

      Just don’t hold the iPhone the wrong way. 🙂

  4. There is a lot of custom firmware in phones, maybe more than PCs. An open source Android branch would be better than trying to adapt a desktop os to a phone. I suspect Ubuntu came to this conclusion.

  5. I wish I was smart enough to crack bootloaders and write drivers and kernel modules, or rich enough to fund this. It’s a great idea. This project based on an abstraction layer is how all modern operating systems should work, instead of custom kernels for every device model like Android does.

    1. Cyanogenmod died. LineageOS (mentioned in the article) is the fork of it.

      Otherwise, yah… pretty much. Though it’s not the unified kernel that this PostmarketOS is striving for. Each CM (Lineage now) had to be compiled for each type of phone, and I think that’s the wow-factor of what Postmarket is attempting.

  6. “developing a Linux-based alternative to Android”

    Android is Linux based.

    Also, PostmarkOS still requires unlocking the bootloader on your phone (much like Lineage and all those other custom ROMS).

    Lastly, I encourage you to Google what phones from 2007 (ten years ago) looked and performed like and if you think there’s any chance more than a handful of people are going to be using the phones of today in ten years.

    All that said, it WAS a very interesting article about a custom ROM that doesn’t work yet.

  7. Why not just build AOSP and work on making it backward compatible with all older phones? Then you could upgrade to the latest Android in a few days….

    It seems like they’re reinventing the wheel.. again.. here.

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