Linux phones are basically just small, low-power Linux computers with touchscreens, and modems. While most mobile Linux distributions designed for phones feature touch-friendly user interfaces and apps, you can also run desktop applications on a Linux phone.
But you may have trouble actually using software that obviously weren’t designed for small screens, because it can be hard to navigate applications designed for keyboard and mouse input when you’re using a fingertip.
So developer CalcProgrammer1 was looking for a way to use the touchscreen on a Linux phone to emulate a mouse or touchpad. And when he didn’t find one, he decided to build one. It’s called TouchPadEmulator and there’s a proof-of-concept version available at GitLab.
Here’s how TouchpadEmulator works:
- Hit the volume up key to trigger mouse mode.
- Now you can move a cursor on the screen by dragging your finger across the display. This will help you hit tiny icons, menus, or other targets. It also makes it possible to interact with drop-down menus and/or items that respond to a hovering cursor that would otherwise be tough to use on a touch-only device.
- You can tap the screen to emulate a click actions, use a 2-finger tap to right-click, swipe with 2 fingers to scroll, or tap-and-hold to drag windows or other items.
- Switch back to touchscreen mode by pressing the volume down key when you want to use the on-screen keyboard or other touch-based navigation.
- Close TouchpadEmulator by pressing either volume key for 2-3 seconds.
While automatic screen rotation is not yet supported, the developer notes that if you rotate the screen to portrait mode you can also press the volume-up key again to change orientation. And you can keep pressing it to cycle through different screen orientations until you’re back to the start.
Right now the software is functional,
but it only works on the PinePhone and lacks support for automatic screen rotations. Still, it’s the sort of project that could make it much easier to run desktop applications on Linux phones without the need to plug in a keyboard, mouse, or external display, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the software or something similar baked into mobile Linux distributions and/or ported to other devices like the Librem 5 smartphone.
Update: CalcProgrammer1 has released an update that allows the TouchPadEmulator utility to work with a few more phones. It now supports:
- PinePhone running Mobian
- PinePhone running postmarketOS
- Google Nexus 5 running postmarketOS
- Samsung Galaxy S5 running postmarketOS