The Android operating system from Google is an operating system for mobile devices. The smartphone market has developed in such a way that new device versions come onto the market when the current device is still a long way from the end of its life (hardware). With regard to software updates, manufacturers support the purchase of a new device by ensuring that operating system updates only last a certain period of time, e. g. for 2 years. Continuing to operate such a device is associated with risks because if the operating system does not receive any more updates, the threat level quickly increases through the use of software exploits. But some people are not keen on making a new, expensive purchase or signing up for a new contract.
However, there are ways to install alternative operating systems for your smartphone and there are also Android emulators to run Android software on your computer. This opens up new possibilities. Google apps that are only used at home can be run in the Android emulator. The smartphone, which is no longer completely fresh, can safely continue to be operated with or without Google and a new operating system. With this combination you can not only continue to use your smartphone safely, you can also “ditch” it and use it without informing Google every step of the way.
There are different Android emulators for Linux that take different approaches. Currently, since Windows 11, Android apps have been given explicit support, which means they can be used like normal Windows apps. The support in Linux lags a bit behind, but is also well advanced. Anyone who can google and follow instructions is already adequately equipped. If you have problems, the emulator websites or social media channels such as Facebook, Diaspora, Mastodon, Telegram and others can help. Further, you can also find web forums on the subject. When I came up with the idea of installing an Android emulator in Debian, I had it ready and operational within what felt like half an hour with Google Playstore and the vacuum cleaner robot app, just as I had imagined. The Google App Store found that this app was not suitable for my Android and refused to install it, but I was able to download the APK from an APK mirror and install it via sideload. Contrary to the opinion of the Google app store, the app works flawlessly, just like on the smartphone.
aftermarket Android operating system
The beginning was probably made by Cyanogenmod, since then developer mode, adb, sideload and recovery have become known to many people. The alternative firmware developed by the voluntary programming community has been installed millions of times (source: Wikipedia). Since then, new projects have emerged and the former Cyanogenmod has emerged Lineage OS, first opening December 25, 2016 (source Wikipedia). There are other aftermarket firmware versions that share philosophies other than Lineage OS, a list on Wikipedia gives information. Not listed is Ubuntu Touch, which was originally developed from Canonical Ltd., but ended in 2017 and its state of development had been completely transferred to the non-profit foundation UBPorts. The aim was and is to merge desktop and smartphone.
All alternative smartphone firmwares have in common that not all smartphones are supported, especially old, rare and brand new smartphones are affected. This becomes understandable when you consider that such a device must be available to a developer who volunteers for it, sometimes even different devices of the same type, because it happens that the hardware configuration differs between different devices within a release.
The device’s bootloader must be unlocked. This must be supported by the manufacturer, who has the necessary software and description available.
All are based on an Android from the device manufacturer, because it includes driver support for this device.
Many people use adb manually as the installation process, as far as I know, only Ubuntu Touch offers a graphical installer for this and is unique, but of course all of them offer a device overview and installation instructions. Here, too, you should definitely open up communication channels beforehand in order to get support, because trying to install a foreign operating system on your smartphone without special knowledge is a dangerous process and the installation instructions are of no help if you get stuck somewhere.
What they have in common is that installation is possible with Linux and Windows, but it is without question useful if you can have both operating systems available.
The fact that I didn’t have any PC software to control my vacuum cleaner robot had annoyed me for a long time. I think it’s great that I can do this with the help of an Android emulator, and my new smartphone for little money with aftermarket firmware is great too.
I was using a Samsung Galaxy J3 smartphone released in 2016 and it still works fine. But there have been no Android updates for a long time and the WiFi and Bluetooth drivers were extremely endangered because they could be cracked non-interactively, well, and then came Corona and the Corona app, which uses Bluetooth for your risk encounter analysis. High time to use a new smartphone.
When I first became aware of Ubuntu Touch, I saw a way to do that and also possibly provide support for the development of Ubuntu Touch. Unfortunately, my J3 is way too old and not supported, so I needed a new smartphone. I was new to the world of aftermarket firmware, but I was willing to take a chance, but with little money if possible, so it should be a used device. So I went to the Ubuntu Touch website and worked my way through device support to find a device that I could get on the current second-hand market, that I was willing to pay and that was so advanced in development that I wanted to use it. I found what I was looking for with the Xiaomi Mi 8 for less than € 200.
I now have another smartphone because the Mi 8 in the development branch sometimes has failures such as being unable of making calls and a smartphone that you want to use to develop software or program system updates shouldn’t be the device that has to work reliably. The second device I bought as the Mi 8 then turned out to be the Mi 8 Lite and it wasn’t supported by Ubuntu Touch. I didn’t know that it wasn’t an MI 8 at that time and I had bricked my Mi 8 Lite when I manually installed MI 8 images on it, but then got support from a developer at the Telegram Ubuntu Touch Channel, so I could save the device. That’s how I came to Lineage OS.
Now this phone is my new reliable smartphone, fully supported by Lineage. After a trip completely without Google, made possible by Magisk, MicroG, Gapps, Aurorastore and a site from XDA-Delopers, the result was that I couldn’t do without Google because the device support for my navigation system was simply not feasible and would never be. It now runs with the current Lineages OS version and the pico version of Opengapps - only enough Google software for the Google playstore to work - so I can install and use the apps for my devices (vacuum cleaner robot and Garmin Navigator) that are only available in the Playstore. I have also installed the F-Droid app and, if possible, use other apps from this store that like to be FLOSS and don’t exchange data with Google, or web apps that have convenient access to e. g. Facebook without having to use its monstrous Google app. Through F-Droid, for example, also the project air data of the OK Lab Stuttgart became known to me. As a result, I have opened up parts of the software world that I hadn’t noticed before, which I see as a great benefit. I am much more private with it, which I would not have been able to do with a “normal” smartphone.
It is a good feeling!