@Gael recently initiated debate about the “highly secure /e/ profile”, where some really interesting thoughts were popping up. But after having had some conversations with family members over the Easter break, I believe it could be pretty useful to take a closer look as well on the needs of average smartphone users. Here are my thoughts and observations about what I’d expect from a standard profile in /e/.
An /e/ standard profile for me means much more than just looking into what apps should be included.
MY USER OBSERVATIONS:
- I know a lot of smart phone users who feel overwhelmed by the functionality of their devices.
- But they wouldn’t necessarily admit it (as they are ashamed).
- The same about messages popping up, people are rather unable/unwilling to deal with them. They tend to ignore them.
- It seems that almost everybody is aware about data issues in a very general manner (thank you, Facebook et al.), but often people have difficulties to capture to what extent they are concerned themselves and how precisely data actually are flowing out of their own devices. Most people I talked to had this guts feeling that ‘something’ is wrong but as well had at the same time a lack of basic technical understanding in this respect. Unanimously, they were interested in a non-leaking phone - one that works out of the box!
My father is just a good example: When he got his first smartphone about a year ago (it was a MiMax2), he felt just overwhelmed by functionality of his new device, disturbed how easy it was to press by mistake the front edge of the screen and ending up in a completely different menu, he was paralyzed by notifications and error messages popping up where he was unable to understand what the problem was and what he should actually do. As a consequence, he asked my to switch off and block everything that was not essential to him (he was happy with system that could barely do more than a classic Nokia 3310 feature phone). But after the first weeks and months of learning with his device he got ready for more and we added step-by-step new functionality/apps/security features.
Of course, a phone OS will never comply to the need of each and every user, but I think there still of room for improvement in terms of usability. I am not looking into major changes rather in the tiny ones that may help to improve /e/s user experience.
If I transpose the experiences I mentioned above to /e/, I’d say there are 2 user groups that might get easily interested in /e/ and it would be good not to disappoint them:
- Minimum users. /e/ could be potentially a perfectly suitable phone for people who want just a minimum of services that just work out of the box. The Gxxxle-free system would probably be just a nice add-on.
- Data-sensitive users. That’s the target group /e/ is being built for.
A thing that applies to both user groups: They will install /e/ and then install a few apps that they are used to. That’s a key discipline /e/ should perform very well. Personally, I am quite happy with /e/ and I had really no issues with apps that do not work in /e/, but I figured out other things that caused hickups that may cause bigger frustrations to users.
A CLOSER LOOK TO USER GROUP .
There are many small things that users are likely to stumble upon:
[QKSMS] Why does a SMS app have a strange name such as QKSMS instead of just calling it messages or simply SMS?
[App Logos] The app logos in the launcher are different from the logos displayed in the Settings/App submenu: http://gg.gg/dri62
[e-cloud communication] When suddenly the monthly data plan is all used up and users don’t understand it happened because all the photos they took were uploaded right away on the /e/ server (http://gg.gg/dri67). Why not preset /e/ in a way that (bulky) uploads only happen via Wifi?
[Notification access] When one of the first things after booting is that /e/ users are asked questions that they are unable to answer (until recently users needed to give notification access to Bliss, whereas most people neither understand what that means nor what is Bliss): http://gg.gg/dri5t
[Telegram] Here another confusing notification, this time concerning Telegram: http://gg.gg/dri7c. I am aware that it is rather an Oreo related issue but such a message should not happen for a preinstalled app. Rather do not preinstall Telegram then.
All those issues are tiny ones, but may potentially create huge frustrations to new users. I collected some more issues at the end of this text.
A CLOSER LOOK TO USER GROUP 2.
Data-sensitive users are not necessarily geeks. I even believe that someone opting for /e/ first wants to see that the system just works and then installing his or her preferred apps. It is not unlikely that GoogleMaps or WhatsApp are part of them. To move away from data hungry applications to free and open source apps is a complicated issue (maybe even more complicated than getting a new ROM installed) as it requires behaviour change and involves (in the case of a messenger) many other people. I’d preinstall in /e/ only the bare minimum, no SMS with encryption options, I even wouldn’t preinstall any messenger (although I use and love Telegram and Signal). /e/s USP (unique selling proposition) is the fact that it is Gxxxle-free. That’s quite enough for the beginning, otherwise let them just install what makes them happy. Once they are settled in the /e/-system, it is likely that they will be open to learn more - about other privacy features and /e/ should be ready by then to raise the interest, explain and help to move away from all the data hungry applications. But only then.
Those are only the things that I observed myself, I guess there are others. I am almost sure, the "Mums and Dads" that many of you keep on mentioning again and again will be grateful and probably many others too.
MY WISH IS THAT /E/ JUST WORKS OUT OF THE BOX
and that means for me it should…
(most things are already taken care of, I just want summarize here)
- be a neat and clean system, equipped with logic user interface ,
- offer just a minimum of services
- be largely self-explaining (although, further explanations might be welcome ) ,
- avoid to confront its user with questions or error messages that he/she is likely not to know how to answer .
Furthermore I’d like it to be:
- data-minimising ,
- non-intrusive (or at least: as little as possible)
- and a system that does not overstrain its users
And as a last thing (another idea from my father). Why not producing a user manual - not a complex online thing, just a comprehensive and downloadable PDF-document for end users. Written in a simple and accessible language. Length 5 to 10 pages (max). That won’t be of help if you want to flash your device (too device specific) but to get started with /e/ in the early stages of daily usage - it could help to get your /e/ mail address, help to login the first time, help to understand how Trust works and may answer many things that I have evoked in this text.
(CONTINUATION OF THE LIST AVOVE, A CLOSER LOOK TO USER GROUP 1 ):
[After First Boot Dialogue] The dialogue (selecting language, region, login to /e/…) is quite short, reduced to the essential and well understandable that’s very good. Though, options for alternative profiles (such as the highly secure /e/ profile) is currently missing as well as an option to run /e/ only locally without server support. Both options should be hidden somewhere under “advanced options”
[Apps/Battery Usage Notification] Another notification message that is a particularity of Android 8: http://gg.gg/drimu. Those message for system apps should be made disappearing (unless /e/ will be upgraded soon to Pie)
[Call history/SMS] Are not saved in the e-cloud, why?
At least: users should be made aware of it, as they may expect it coming from Gxxxle.
[Contact accounts] If I want to add a contact to my phone I need to select each time to what address book I want to add the contact (local or online). I’d like the device to not to let me chose: If I have no online account, the contact should be saved on my phone, if I am registered with an (e) account the contact should be saved in the online (e) account, only if I have several accounts registered on my phone the user should be asked. Keep it simple (http://gg.gg/drm6x and http://gg.gg/drma2)
[Data usage] The most serious bug that I am facing is the excessive data usage that happens from time to time and that made me using my phone with data switched off for now. The bug was descrived for instance here: http://gg.gg/drmx6. That issue defenitely needs to be resolved!
[E-account] Signing into the E-account is done after the initial boot process, that makes sense. When a user does not have an account yet or by mistake misses out this step, it is not very easy to catch up this step as there is no dedicated /e/ section under settings and under accounts there is /e/, /e/ address book and WebDAV login options. a single sign-in button for /e/ would be good and the WebDAV options should be hidden (if possible). http://gg.gg/driwx
[First boot/Error message] Not very inviting if a first boot is accompanied by an error message. In my case the error is popping up when selecting the system language: "Calendar stopped", http://gg.gg/driol
[Maps] Magic Earth might be a story apart, but there’s one usability issue that bothers me. You write an address or a place name, then click on search. Once the place appears on the map you click on the arrow in the right upper corner and instead of getting the itinerary calculated, a new window opens up and you have to retype the address. That does not make sense to me: http://gg.gg/drijr
[Language issues] The standard widgets are always only in English as well as certain app names in the launcher (Maps, Calendar), no matter what system language is set
[Language settings / System languages] Imagine you’d like to add a language of your phone, the ‘Languages’ submenu in Settings is easy to find, it is equally easy to add another language, but you’d face probably severe difficulties to change the display language. You probably need to know that in the same submenu you just need to put the desired language in the top of the list, otherwise you’d not figure it out. It’s easy but tricky. http://gg.gg/drm3r
[Ring tones / Notification sounds] I have the file manager Amaze installed on my phone. But each time I’d like to change the ring tone - I am confronted with the option of 2 apps to use (http://gg.gg/drm5h). That’s confusing und unnecessary. The standard ring tone selection menu is good and even allows to add additional ringtones.
[Signal/QKSMS] There’s an SMS app installed [QKSMS] but for now Signal is still the default SMS app that only becomes clear once you receive your first SMS.
[Trust] This app is likely to need a bit more explanation what it is and how it works http://gg.gg/drimi
[Weather app] In the default setting, the weather widget does not always shows to weather for my current location (update sometimes takes several days), even if it does: When opening the Weather app, the location indicated is always London,UK.
[Yalp/F-Droid / system apps non-update] When installing Yalp or F-Droid, they inform about the availability of updates to system apps such as QKSMS, Tasks, Telegram and (Fake) Google Play Store. But the updates are blocked. I believe many people will install Yalp to access already paid apps, therefore it would be good that /e/s system apps do not appear as upgradable in Yalp and F-Droid to avoid confusion. Especially with regards to the (Fake) Google Play Store this will be important as users might not understand why Google Play Store should be updated on a Gxxxle-free system.
My observations that I am sharing here, are based on a Xiaomi Redmi Note 4/Mido and an unofficial Oreo built of /e/ (29/4).
Oh, and despite of all my ‘critizism’, I am using /e/ as my daily driver for 2 months now and I am really happy with it. Dear team: Thanks for the great work!