On the state of KaiOS and BananaHackers community as of summer of 2023

#kaios #bananahackers #hacker #hacking #featurephonedevelopment #featurephone #notandroid

A few years ago, Luxferre founded the BananaHackers community to hack KaiOS, the web based mobile OS, and to develop for this platform. I joined this community after I got my BananaPhone. The famous 8110 which has a yellow colour and is curved. I remember I was exactly looking for the yellow version of the phone and it was very exciting.

I remember when I wanted to get my 8110 back in 2017, there were just around 100 apps in KaiStore or maybe even less. The community was young and so was KaiOS. I think my first app for KaiOS was VM-IRC which the VM part was standing for Very Minimalistic. Later when I joined the community chatrooms which back then were hosted on r/KaiOS Discord guild. I found the community welcoming and very active. We had Uncle Ivan(or Ivan Alex HC) among us who was not a developer but had spirit of a tinkerer. You might know his Youtube channel. We also had many other members which you can find a list, hopefully complete, in the credits page of our wiki.

I was honored to become a trusted member of the community and later a council member. The council is the heart of the community and we have very old members there who are still active. We also had many members there who are no longer around, unfortunately.

In 2018, the partnership of KaiOS and Mozilla was announced to bring modern and performant web for KaiOS. Almost everyone of us were waiting for KaiOS 3.0 which was based on the new Gecko rather the ancient one used in Firefox 48. There are so many advantages in this upgrade. Including but not limited to support of WebAssembly, newer WebGL, much better performance in rendering and new web APIs. We were looking forward to the new KaiOS and hoping it to be still debug-enabled and available worldwide.

But now, in 2023, this mobile Operating System seems to be on the verge of death. Not only KaiOS 3.0 is out but also KaiOS 3.1 is also out. But there is no device which is available worldwide. Only few carrier-locked devices for North America. Nevertheless, there is Nokia 2780 Flip which is not carrier locked. And one can buy from online shops like Amazon almost anywhere in the world. But first, this phone will cost one around 140 bucks to get into their hand. Second and more important, this device is not debug enabled and thus it cannot be used for app development purposes in a convenient way.

Many “council” members have lost interest in developing for KaiOS. Many have not and believe this OS will live on and cover a minority of the market. Both opinions seem reasonable and we'll have to wait to see what will happen.

I've already considered an alternative mobile OS. I have two main requirements: First and most important, I must be able to easily hack the OS and write apps for it. Unfortunately, not Android nor iOS are not my answer. Developing an Android app requires you to have huge resources on your PC. And its ecosystem is hard to hack. Compiling Android itself takes ages and a regular PC. iOS on the other hand is even worse. To develop for iOS you need a MacBook and a developer licence from Apple. The second requirement is that I don't want my phone to be only a display which is boring and the outside view of most smartphones these days.

I haven't decided, yet. But postmarketOS looks very promising. There is already good support of hardware features in 8000 4G and 2720 Flip. There is a possibility to port the new Gecko to pmOS to bring the new KaiOS to the older phones. However, this is not easy, simple nor trivial.

One of members, mostly known as Affe Null, had developed their own ecosystem for KaiOS phones, mainly 8110 at that time. He had ported Debian to 8110 and also developed many apps for it including a graphical shell. Later, he moved to pmOS which seems a reasonable move.