4 reasons why the librem 5 got funded

Librem 5 Plasma Mobile
Librem 5 Plasma Mobile
In the past days, the campaign to crowd-fund a privacy-focused smartphone built on top of Free software and in collaboration with its community reached its funding goal of 1.5 million US dollars. While many people doubted that the crowdfunding campaign would succeed, it is actually hardly surprising if we look what the librem 5 promises to bring to the table.

1. Unique Privacy Features: Kill-switches and auditable code

Neither Apple nor Android have convincing stories when it comes to privacy. Ultimately, they’re both under the thumbs of a restrictive government, which, to put it mildly doesn’t give a shit about privacy and has created the most intrusive global spying system in the history of mankind. Thanks to the U.S., we now live in the dystopian future of Orwell’s 1984. It’s time to put an end to this with hardware kill switches that cut off power to the radio, microphone and camera, so phones can’t be hacked into anymore to listen in on your conversations, take photos you never know were taken and send them to people you definitely would never voluntarily share them with. All that comes with auditable code, which is something that we as citizens should demand from our government. With a product on the market supplying these features, it becomes very hard for your government to argue that they really need their staff to use iphones or Android devices. We can and we should demand this level of privacy from those who govern us and handle with our data. It’s a matter of trust.
Companies will find this out first, since they’re driven by the same challenges but usually much quicker to adopt technology.

2. Hackable software means choice

The librem 5 will run a mostly standard Debian system with a kernel that you can actually upgrade. The system will be fully hackable, so it will be easy for others to create modified phone systems based on the librem. This is so far unparalleled and brings the freedom the Free software world has long waited for, it will enable friendly competition and collaboration. All this leads to choice for the users.

3. Support promise

Can a small company such as Purism actually guarantee support for a whole mobile software stack for years into the future? Perhaps. The point is, even in case they fail (and I don’t see why they would!), the device isn’t unsupported. With the librem, you’re not locked into a single vendor’s eco system, but you buy into the support from the whole Free software community. This means that there is a very credible support story, as device doesn’t have to come from a single vendor, and the workload is relatively limited in the first place. Debian (which is the base for PureOS) will be maintained anyway, and so will Plasma as tens of millions of users already rely on it. The relatively small part of the code that is unique to Plasma Mobile (and thus isn’t used on the desktop) is not that hard to maintain, so support is manageable, even for a small team of developers. (And if you’re not happy with it, and think it can be done better, you can even take part.)

4. It builds and enables a new ecosystem

The Free software community has long waited for this hackable device. Many developers just love to see a platform they can build software for that follows their goals, that allows development with a proven stack. Moreover, convergence allows users to blur the lines between their devices, and advancing that goal hasn’t been on the agenda with the current duopoly.
The librem 5 will put Matrix on the map as a serious contender for communication. Matrix has rallied quite a bit of momentum to bring more modern mobile-friendly communication, chat and voice to the Free software eco-system.
Overall, I expect the librem 5 to make Free software (not just open-source-licensed, but openly developed Free software) a serious player also on mobile devices. The Free software world needs such a device, and now is the time to create it. With this huge success comes the next big challenge, actually creating the device and software.

The unique selling points of the librem 5 definitely strike a chord with a number of target groups. If you’re doubtful that its first version can fully replace your current smart phone, that may be justified, but don’t forget that there’s a large number of people and organisations that can live with a more limited feature set just fine, given the huge advantages that private communication and knowing-what’s-going-on in your device brings with it.
The librem 5 really brings something very compelling to the table and those are the reasons why it got funded. It is going to be a viable alternative to Android and iOS devices that allows users to enjoy their digital life privately. To switch off tracking, and to sleep comfortably.
Are you convinced this is a good idea? Don’t hesitate to support the campaign and help us reach its stretch goals!

5 thoughts on “4 reasons why the librem 5 got funded

  1. There’s one thing that will be paramount for success: It has to be able to run Android apps!

    Security considerations aside, it doesn’t really matter to a smart phone user, what OS is under the hood. But not being able to use a particular app will be a deal breaker.
    Think of WhatsApp. Like it or not (and I for one don’t), there are always people with whom you want/need to chat and who can’t be bothered to move to something other than WhatsApp. So, there have to be compromises, because users would not want to have to manage two phones — librem 5 plus an Android or iPhone.
    Then there are Android apps that one actually would want to use, e.g. Orbot/Orfox, KeePass, KDE connect, …

    Ideally, the Android apps can be sandboxed. It would be great if e.g. WhatsApp asks and gets the permission to access all your contacts, only that there aren’t any inside the sandbox where it runs. :-)

    1. For a general audience device, I would agree.

      For a special purpose device, I don’t. If we market Plasma Mobile to an audience that only needs a specific set of features, we might well be able to satisfy this group without supporting WhatsApp. Imagine a company that needs to be able to communicate internally in a safe way, and only do external phone calls or receive them. Not supporting Android apps can be a features.

      If you’re thinking about the general users, then sure, we will need to support the services our users require. That could well be a second (or third step) after introducing Plasma Mobile in more limited target markets.

      1. For reasons that are a bit strange at best, corporations seem to shy away from open source software.
        If the librem 5 and plasma mobile shall be successful, it’ll have to be with general users first.

        Don’t think that users would accept a reduction in choice compared to an Android or iPhone. Why should they opt for something that can do less?

        If you want to be too prescriptive in what users can do with their phones, they’ll just go elsewhere. So, it’ll either run Android apps from the start, or it’ll be a niche product for only a handful of enthusiasts.

    2. Not that this is representative in any way, but I’ve been keeping an eye on the number of subscribers on /r/privacy, which seems to attract a fair amount of people who aren’t tech savvy, but who start taking an interest in privacy – and this number seems to steadily increase.

      If your read a little through the questions asked, you’ll find that people are looking for alternatives to apps like WhatsApp, that people want to move away from Facebook, and that people are interested in alternatives in general.

      It will always be tough to make the first step, to be the one who isn’t where all the friends and family are, not to use something that is popular. However, I can tell you from experience that once you vanish from a given platform, people who actually matter in your life and vice versa will follow, even if that means an additional chat app.

      As for other apps including those you mention…look at the evolution of apps on F-Droid. When I moved to an F-Droid only setup a few years back, I “lost” quite a few apps, but I gained a huge amount of battery life and a snappier phone instead. Now you might ask what are the benefits of that if the apps are missing? Well, the answer is that for the time being it’s an irrelevant question because when I truly need to get stuff done, I have an actual computer. If true convergence will happen at some point, we might look at that question again…

  2. > There’s one thing that will be paramount for success: It has to be able to run Android apps!

    I also agree with this statement. I am a developer who primarily uses open source apps in the KDE/Plasma environment but I cannot imagine my primary mobile device not being able to use Google Hangouts/Skype/Viber etc. Maybe Librem is not for me … but it could be if it was able to run Android apps. It’s definitely achievable.

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