Ubuntu Touch Q&A 100
The long awaited Q&A 100 is here, after four years of the broadcast


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News and Update

On May 8 2021, Florian, Marius, Dalton and Alfred presented.
Go to devices.ubuntu-touch.io for info about whether your device is supported.

Call for testing OTA-17 is out

First there was an update of some news. The rollout of OTA-17 is due on May 12. The call for testing is out and if you can help with that, please do. This is not the switch to 20.04 that everyone is waiting for but it contains some of the upgrades that will be needed for that. The next couple of OTA releases are not likely to do that either.

In this OTA a Macedonian keyboard layout has been added and the failure of predictive text to load when using the Swiss-French or English (Dvorak) keyboards has been fixed.  For Android 9 based devices we now have NFC support.

Camera flash, zoom, rotation and focus have been fixed for Android 9 and (accidentally) for all of our devices which had problems with those. The notable example of this is the OnePlus 1. We applied the fix for Android 9 based devices but applied it to the image for all and were surprised to discover that it also worked for devices not based on Android 9. Basically, what happens on Android is that if you get just one parameter wrong, the system stops listening, even though all of the other parameters are fine. Thanks to Nikita for the fix.

Marius experimenting 

Marius has been doing some experimentation with Qtmir and found that it has some surprising functionality. He has been playing with the new GLtextures patch he made, which is a buffer for the interface with Qtmir. It will work with Mir 2.0 when that arrives but it will also work with Wayland, once that is merged into the Android platform. A patch to do that on the PinePhone was created by Marius some time ago but the new patch is a complete re-write. The exciting part beyond the basic functionality is the success Marius has had in implementing multi-display with it. The Qtmir demo (and Lomiri) can now do fancy windows in windows like an infinite mirror as well as seamless movement of windows between ‘windows in windows’. It is available on an experimental branch in Gitlab if you want to try it out. The demo version works on Focal, Fedora, Manjaro or pretty much anywhere. Qtmir can be installed on Debian but that will be without the patches.

Marius showed a video of it working. He explained that there were two Qtmir windows on the screen running on X, inside two other windows using Wayland to run in X. The basic functionality has been shown to work but it will be a while before we see it implemented for users.

20.04 development news 

On 20.04 progress, apparmor-easyprof which is the module which provides for app confinement now has systemd units and scripts available. Lomiri App-launch assembles apps into a group so that they can be managed. Rodney did the work on that.

Rachanan is close to getting Lomiri itself running as a user session under systemd. With those, we are on the verge of being able to build images.

Celebrating 100th show edition

To celebrate the 100th edition of the show, a video 'A love letter from our community, to our community'  was made featuring snatches of interviews with several community members, where they explain what brought them to UBports and what motivates them. The video will be uploaded to the YouTube channel and other places. The three hours of overall content was edited down to just four minutes. Nerdzoom Media did an excellent job on the editing for us. [Well worth watching more than once].

After the experience of doing the interviews, Dalton suggested that it showed what a good idea it would be to include members of the community who have not been featured previously, in future Q&A sessions


The News section of our Forum is the best place to post questions for the Q&A. YouTube live chat, Telegram and Matrix are other places to post a question.

If you didn't know, the Forum questions get priority.

Future challenges 

Dalton asked the other three presenters to give their opinion on what the challenges are that the project will face over the next four years and their thoughts about the changes we will have to make to address those.

Florian is a member of the Board of Directors of the UBports Foundation, so he went with that perspective. As we expand and mature it will become more necessary to hire people to carry out work for us. There is a limit to what we can achieve using only volunteer effort. To achieve that we need not only more money but a reliable source of income over time. Over the next year we need to establish a more ambitious funding culture, attracting significant institutional funding. That may come from businesses, other foundations or from governmental bodies. In recent years, the technical challenges we have faced were the big priority because they were so time-consuming and difficult. We didn’t give much thought to the ‘business’ side of things. Marketing and engagement need more attention from us and instead of just convincing individuals that our technology does something valuable for them, we need to show to institutions that we have something that they should support and could benefit from. We are in the pretty extraordinary position of having a phone operating system that works and which is not either Android or iOS. That is special and it will have appeal.

This is not fanciful thinking. There have already been some discussions about developments which we can’t talk about openly just yet but there will be some announcements coming down the line, later this year.

Marius said that his biggest concern is over voLTE. We don’t have that capability and providing it will be a very difficult technical challenge. India is a place where the closure of the networks we do support has become a problem and there are already issues with a number of network operators in the USA. We are not about to be excluded by the technology in the very near future and in the EU the situation will probably take several years to pan out but in the worst case scenario, it is the issue which could turn our devices into tablets, without conventional call and text capabilities. [This is not about messengers like Teleports and Axolotl.] If we were somehow unable to make the move to Focal, our phones would still work as phones, though it would be far from ideal. The voLTE challenge is much more existential. We probably have time but we should act as if it is going to happen next year and just get on with enabling it. There has been one hack session to look at it and one success. That gives some hope but there is a very long way to go with it. Marius managed to get one library to build but there are a vast number of them to do.

What Google decide to do with Android is unpredictable and could have major consequences. If they continue with the Treble path we should be fine but if they pursue Fuchsia life could become very difficult for us.

Moving on to complete unknowns, we of course have no idea what tech might be thrown at us by the big players. Mobile phones are very well established now and the changes which are announced at the big reveals look rather trivial and superficial. There is the notch and more and more cameras but the impression is that they are out of interesting ideas. The corporations know that and will be thinking about new stuff. Foldable and VR are probably not going to be the Next Big Thing but we have no idea what might be.

Within the next four year period we need to get Lomiri working beautifully on desktops. That will be our second big contribution, after the phone OS. Marius feels super confident that not only will we have that up and running but that we will have it before the end of 2021! Note: this is a Sock Challenge. Witnesses confirm that Marius agreed to eat two deep-fried socks on live broadcast if that deadline is not met. You heard it here first.

Alfred said that in tech it is very difficult to see much more than one year ahead. One issue which worries him is that there are still obstacles in the way of community members being able to contribute financially to strands of the project. We need to improve the granularity of the donations process. Alfred was also worried about the unknown and unknowable tech which might suddenly appear and become the norm. We have had a few issues already with changes (such as the new Initramfs boot) and in Halium we have managed to accommodate those, so there is a positive story to tell.

Dalton mentioned the Apple ‘Spring loaded’ event. With Handoff you can be part way through sending a message on your phone and then continue writing on your Mac. The Pencil snaps onto the side and is instantly paired etc. Vaguely cool maybe but hardly mould-breaking. They have infinite funds yet they have only come up with these rather minor things. In the week after that presentation, Dalton read a book called ‘Digital Minimalism’ and re-read ‘Irresistible’. Both books refer how many people are feeling trapped by their digital devices. Apple and Google have different business models but both are determined to insert their smart devices into every aspect of our lives, for commercial reasons. There are some token responses to over-use but neither want you to seriously put their devices aside. Their technological engagement techniques have been very successful in creating a situation where many users are reluctant to ever put their phone down, while they are awake.

Smartphones should be a tool box

Lockdowns have played a part in deepening the pit of doom-scrolling. Mobile device addiction (for that is what it is) is a growing problem but UT is a positive in those terms. We want to cater for needs but we get no financial or other benefit if users of our OS use their devices more intensively. We are not interested in advertising hits or making our devices an essential part of daily existence. They are there for use and fun but there are other things in life, like having normal conversations face to face or enjoying the outdoors without a running commentary in our ear. We in the UBports community are humans, not units in an attention driven economy.

Florian gave the example of a tool box. You keep it in a cupboard and when you have a task to do, you take out the correct tool for the job and when you finish the job you put that back in the box and put the box away again. Smartphones should be a tool box. If you find that you are walking around all the time wearing a tool belt, something isn’t quite right.

We had folding maps. We had good quality cameras. It wasn’t clear why we needed everything electronic and all in one place, especially if the new tools were not as good or as purpose-designed as the old ones. Email worked just fine on a desktop. Mobile phones created a problem not a solution.

This is not an argument about features or a proposal to remove features but we need to be very conscious about what we are doing to people, by including options. A ‘clamour for features’ can be addiction talking and we shouldn’t be feeding that monster.

Our approach should not be ‘more things’ for the sake of more things but taking the important things and making them simple and excellent; combining very simple mechanisms in a way that enables complicated things to be done very elegantly, without just creating another complicated mechanism. If our OS respects people, it will merit their respect in turn.

One comment in live chat was that data stopped working in a UT device and that improved face to face conversations :) We are not saying that we are in favour of things being broken but we need to be mindful of the effects of what we do.

Balance time announcement

Florian announced that in view of the need to build our business strategy as he was outlining earlier, he needs to be more selective about what he does in the community and prioritize that. As a result, from now his appearances on the Q&A will be infrequent and only when he has something to report on that front. He will also be less visible in Telegram and as a lead with Teleports. All of us have to balance our time, prioritize and ‘have a life’. So a sensible decision.

Big Thanks

Big thanks for those interviewed for the 'A love letter from our community to our community'
Marius at Nerdzoom for putting it together, also to Nigel who co-ordinates announcements and to Lionel [me] who takes the notes for each Q&A.

See you next time :-)

Ubuntu Touch OTA-17 Call for Testing