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Alternatives to BlackBerry 10 OS


Android OS, Apple iOS or what?

I originally wrote this article in 2016, after BlackBerry finally made it public at CES in Las Vegas that they would abandon BlackBerry 10 and only offer smartphones with Android OS. The issue is still relevant: only two of the formerly four most popular operating systems are still on the market.

Some business people still use a BlackBerry smartphone.
04.01.2022: BlackBerry ends service (see reference below).
There are even said to still be users of Windows smartphones …

Since 2018 …

  • there have been no more security updates from BlackBerry
  • there are no more apps in BlackBerry World (finally closed at the end of 2019)
  • the last SSL certificates still valid expire and are not renewed

… so the search for an alternative is also an issue for these users!

Short Version of the Dilemma

BlackBerry tried to stop the decline of its hardware division with two new smartphones and BlackBerry 10 (BB10) from 30.01.2013. Without marketing, however, no manufacturer has a chance against competitors and so success failed to materialise; the final end was foreseeable.
In order to rehabilitate BlackBerry, the hardware division was outsourced and Google's Android OS was chosen as the operating system alternative. very angry smiley

So anyone who values data protection and privacy urgently needs an alternative. Android OS from Google or iOS from Apple?

When I had to make this decision, Android OS was more insecure than it is today and alternatives like LineageOS, /e/OS or GrapheneOS were still at the beginning of their development. Therefore, Apple's iOS was the best choice.

Then came Apple's announcement that from iOS 15 onwards it would use a technique to scan photos locally, with the aim of contributing to child welfare. Unfortunately, the wrong approach, because governments could now force Apple to search for any data other than child abuse photos. Reason enough to test an alternative: Fairphone 3+. I also tested the Fairphone 4. But I like Apple's iOS much more.

Conclusion: iPhone 11 Pro Max as daily driver, Fairphones as WiFi-Hotspots.

The whole Story

If you have time and desire/interest, please read on …

BlackBerry 10 OS

BlackBerry tried to stop the decline of its hardware division with two new smartphones and BlackBerry 10 (BB10) from 30.01.2013. Without marketing, however, no manufacturer has a chance against competitors and so success failed to materialise; the final end was foreseeable. Only die-hard fans of the excellent real-time operating system BB10 remained loyal to the brand and hoped for positive changes in the management.
The BlackBerry board had kept it from us for years that they didn't even want to use BB10 for smartphones anymore!
We loyal customers felt betrayed and now urgently needed an alternative to BlackBerry!

BlackBerry Management had abandoned BB10 OS already 2013

Only the technically interested knew the potential of this real-time operating system (RTOS) and loved the unique user interface with intuitive gesture control. The BlackBerry management did almost no advertising and if they did, it did not highlight the advantages of their own system clearly enough. One could really get the impression that BlackBerry had no marketing department at all.

So BlackBerry 10 OS had no chance in the market of the much inferior but established competition.

BlackBerry 10 OS is based on the real-time operating system QNX and offers an ingeniously simple gesture control, which makes the "home button" (menu button) common in all other smartphone operating systems or even several menu buttons superfluous as a hardware or software solution.

Although some of the applications supplied by BlackBerry initially had a lot of potential for improvement and lacked software interfaces (APIs) that have long been common in other ecosystems, the operating system is hardened against manipulation and cannot be knocked out of step even by poorly programmed apps. It is very frugal and runs smoothly even on older hardware.

This is ideal for the now insignificant hardware manufacturer BlackBerry, which cannot obtain favourable purchase prices for current hardware on the market for smartphone components! That is why there was not a single BlackBerry 10 model with really powerful hardware, although the device prices corresponded to those of other top models. The stable, secure operating system combined with tried and tested hardware found a small circle of security-conscious customers, some of whom even now still use their BlackBerry smartphones (now a massive security risk online!).

Even in March 2015, BlackBerry still did not come out with the Truth

In March 2015 (!), the new head of the device division Ron Loucks briefly showed the trade press a dummy in the cameras - apparently for BlackBerry 10.
In the meantime, we know that the deal with Google was already set up in 2014. CEO John Chen had taken the first steps in 2013.
Giving up the best operating system and keeping the decision secret from customers for years has destroyed my trust! very angry smiley

Last big Wave of Dismissals in February 2016

05.02.2016: BlackBerry has laid off 200 employees mostly responsible for BlackBerry 10! Devilish Smiley This is the final end for their own operating system!
If security vulnerabilities are discovered in the future, BlackBerry will have a hard time fixing them. Software deficiencies were also no longer fixed.

Android OS by Google

From the most secure operating system BlackBerry 10, which is trusted by Western governments, state institutions and large corporations, should one switch to Android?
To entrust personal data to the world's largest advertising service provider, which earns its money by selling customer data and has a reputation as a data octopus?
The collected data is anonymised by Google, but not every customer believes and accepts that.

Very popular and thus a worthwhile Target for Criminals

Up to Android version 7.1.2, there is a security vulnerability that has been known since 2016, which allows any Android developer to intercept and redirect the user's keystrokes unnoticed and even to obtain further authorisations. Android smartphones and tablets with this old operating system version no longer receive updates, but many are still in use because their owners are unaware of the danger or simply do not have the money to buy a new device if the old one is no longer allowed to access the internet due to dangerous security vulnerabilities.

As soon as you set up a BlackBerry PRIV, you realise "that a different tune is playing now": you don't need a BlackBerry ID, but a Google account!
BlackBerry's first Android smartphone, the PRIV, is so badly made that only the most hardened keep it after buying it - and then get angry about the software. BlackBerry customers who are used to quality have been able to order every new BlackBerry model sight unseen up to now, because there have been no serious flaws in the quality of workmanship apart from rare exceptions. This botched hardware doesn't even get Android 7.

In the meantime, BlackBerry's hardware partner TCL had produced more smartphones with Android (DTEK50/60). Thanks to poor update policies and high prices for entry-level hardware with mediocre build quality, success was low and even more BlackBerry customers were pissed off. After the touchscreen model Motion came the KEYone. Mediocre hardware at a high price. Its successor Key² is just as expensive, the hardware has been slightly improved. Unfortunately, there seems to be a wide spread of series. The processing quality of the keyboard and the reception quality is said to be poor in some devices, one could read in the German forum telefon-treff.de (unfortunately, the article was deleted when the forum system was changed there).
Telekom no longer offers it, presumably because of the defects.

Most recently, TCL produced the Key² LE - a 200 EUR cheaper Light Edition with better build quality.
Then the manufacturer TCL lost interest and let the contract with BlackBerry expire.

In the meantime, a Texan company has acquired the trademark rights to “BlackBerry” and wanted to produce a BlackBerry with a keyboard for companies and public authorities in 2021 (this will probably no longer happen).

Android Smartphones from other Manufacturers

Get much more powerful hardware than those with the BlackBerry logo.
Google's new smartphones delivered with Android 8 or higher are also hardened against manipulation. Only a few manufacturers offer regular and rapid software updates and only as long as they absolutely have to (Google wants 18 months and even then only a few manufacturers stick to that).

Samsung also only updates top models for so long (recently also longer, but has other disadvantages like bloatware and exaggerated energy-saving functions that brutally terminate apps too quickly).
Google's own smartphones called Pixel even offer 5 years of software updates since the model 6, but they have non-expandable memory and non-changeable battery.

Android Smartphones with alternative OS

There are, but even for professionals, setting up an alternative operating system on a suitable Android smartphone is a fiddly job. This is not for people who depend on a functional mobile phone.
Addendum 2021: In the meantime, there are providers who offer functionally reliable products based on Android OS and Linux. See below: /e/OS …

Microsoft Windows 10 Mobile

Up to version 8.x, Microsoft called it “Windows Phone” in long form, in the meantime it has been buried as “Windows 10 Mobile”.
It should be able to do what BlackBerry's former CEO Thorsten Heins dreamed of back then with his BlackBerry 10 OS: mobile computing.
One device for all and everywhere. The smartphone as a universal computer. Microsoft called this concept “Continuum” and it could do much more than BlackBerry's “Blend”.
But here, too, the smartphone became very warm during use as a computer for the large monitor and consumed a lot of energy. Journalists who were able to test the pre-production models Lumia 950 and 950XL reported many crashes and an unfinished but promising system that still lacks apps. This reminded us a little of the beginnings of BlackBerry 10 OS (the operating system was super stable, but the apps were missing) …

Microsoft's Consequence: offer Software Solutions for other Platforms

Apps for all Smartphones and Tablets

Microsoft has long since reoriented itself and offers its well-known and proven software solutions for almost all platforms.
If too little of their own hardware is sold, they program the software for other operating systems and earn good money with it!
What has already been running successfully for many years with the transfer protocol Exchange ActiveSync (short: EAS) is being extended to programmes such as Outlook, Word, Excel and marketed for Android OS and Apple iOS.

/e/OS by e Foundation

Those who value privacy and data protection, but still want to use an Android smartphone, replace the Android OS contaminated by Google with many trackers with an alternative version. But not everyone is a geek or nerd and simply builds an Android smartphone with LineageOS or Linux and is happy with such a mobile construction site (even for professionals this is a fiddly job).

Projects such as /e/ in Europe and GrapheneOS and CalyxOS in the US enable the use of smartphones with more privacy for all.

At the moment, however, the choice of devices is very limited.
/e/OS is based on LineageOS, a fork of CyanogenMod and Android OS, so it is a LineageOS fork without Google services.

Apple iOS – closed Ecosystem (walled garden)

Apple's ecosystem is similar to BlackBerry's. To activate/use an iPhone and the manufacturer's services, one needs an Apple ID, i.e. one must officially register with the manufacturer as a customer in order to be able to buy and download apps from its App Store. Data backup and synchronisation of smartphone content with the local computer used to be possible only via USB cable with iTunes, a desktop software similar to BlackBerry Link.
Update 2020: with the macOS version Catalina, the backup menu from iTunes was transferred 1:1 to the Finder of macOS Catalina. Why not just like that! Music and photos are finally synchronised directly with the desktop programmes “Music” and “Photos”.
Windows users will have to continue to struggle with iTunes if they are not willing to invest some money in an external paid solution.

Data Backup local or cloudy

Personal data and software on the iPhone are synchronised with a PC, notebook or Apple computer via USB cable or WLAN or wirelessly with Apple's iCloud (if desired, automatically overnight after connection to the charger via WLAN).

More convenient is the wireless data backup in Apple's iCloud. Commercial users and also private individuals who want to protect the privacy of their stored contacts only back up their data locally!

Apple's iCloud runs in Amazon and Google data centres, where the intelligence services have full access.

No USB Mass Storage Mode (UMS)

iOS does not offer a USB mass storage mode like Android, with which you can access the smartphone memory via cable from the PC. I was sceptical at first because you depend on the reliability of the synchronisation software, which is also only available for Windows and macOS.

Ingenious third-party Synchronisation Software

The iMazing software from the third-party provider DigiDNA runs reliably on Windows and Apple's macOS. The purchase of a software licence was worth it for me.
Unfortunately, there is no software for Linux users to back up the iPhone, so iPhones are hardly suitable for Linux users.

Since iOS Version 12.3 File Management with own Folders

MS Windows has the File Explorer and macOS the Finder.
With the update to iOS 11 on the 19.09.2017, the iPhone and iPad also got file management in the form of an app called “Files”.
At first I didn't know how to use this Files app and for months I couldn't find the option to create, rename or move my own folders. It looked like you were only allowed to use the three storage locations that were already there.
But I was probably not the only one who had not understood this new user interface of “Files” …
In the meantime, I am very happy with “Files” and have created a file structure with folders like on the MacBook Air and previously with Windows 7 Pro.

Transport Encryption of the iCloud is weakened

05.08.2016: The online connection to iCloud (icloud.com) used to offer miserable transport encryption. This has now greatly improved. Check for yourself with the SSL Server Test (rating “A+” would be perfect, but it was only good enough for a “B”).

17.05.2019: While revising this report, I did a new SSL server test. Apple has improved the transport encryption!

21.11.2020: Sometime after that, Apple allowed insecure connections with TLS 1.0 and 1.1 again and since then the rating has been rightly downgraded to “B”!
Apple has the iCloud keys and releases customer data against a court order. American companies have to do this (Patriot Act)!
Thanks to TLS 1.0, intelligence services do not need to wait for a key …
BTW: BlackBerry has never waited for court orders, but has always actively reported suspects to the authorities (it's stated in their EULA)!

25.05.2022: While revising this report again, I did a new SSL server test. Apple has improved the transport encryption!

Tim Cook fought for Privacy and against Backdoors until 2018

Apple's CEO Tim Cook planned to secure the iCloud like the iPhone (since iOS version 8, data on the iPhone was encrypted).
After a conversation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, end-to-end encryption was abandoned for the iCloud in 2018 (see reference below).
By the way: communication via iMessage is end-to-end encrypted, but Apple manages the keys!
With iMessage, no one can access the communication data only as long as you avoid the iCloud as a backup medium! This is because a copy of the iMessage key is also saved during a backup and thus becomes accessible to the authorities.

Conclusion so far: Apple iOS

So I had tested Apple's iPhone 6s Plus and was able to buy its successor, the iPhone 7 Plus, at a good price via contract extension. Then I bought the iPhone 8 from the Apple Store. Thanks to contract extension, I got the anniversary iPhone X from Deutsche Telekom at a good price. I ordered the successor models iPhone Xs, iPhone 11 Pro Max and also the iPhone 11 Pro online from Apple and picked them up at the Apple Store Frankfurt.

Well-intentioned is the evil Sister of badly done

A Blog post by Tutanota prompted me to look for an alternative again …
The computer magazine c't also has a very well-researched article in its issue 19/2021 from page 14 (link in the reference) …

I have absolutely nothing against measures to protect children!
But I do not support invasive surveillance under the guise of child welfare. At some point, such technology will be used against innocent citizens somewhere. Even if this technology were never used in Germany, in other countries state leaders have fewer scruples and those who think differently are quickly in mortal danger.

And the thought that all my data would suddenly be blocked by a false alarm and shortly afterwards everything would be confiscated and I would only get my iPhone and computer back after months of proceedings (surely not in their original condition?) …
Some iOS versions, such as 13.x, have shown us how faulty software can be (but by no means only Apple).

27.10.2021: Apple distributes iOS 15.1 – I test /e/OS on a Fairphone 3+.
Even if /e/OS doesn't excite me in the long run, I can always try alternatives or install Google's Android OS. Fairphone 3+ is not locked. Smiley

10.12.2021: /e/OS runs fine and I like the Fairphone 3+.
However, because two indispensable apps are still not available for /e/OS and require Google services, it became a second device today. Also, its rear-mounted fingerprint sensor is often annoying because it works differently depending on the moisture of the skin.
The successor model Fairphone 4 has much better technical data and a reliable fingerprint sensor in the power button that always unlocks the device quickly when touched with the right finger.

My new Fairphone 4 runs Google's Android OS 11 and will stay that way until my house bank allows its banking app for /e/OS or at least until my health insurance company offers its submission app outside Google Play.
Both will probably never happen …

I have configured my Fairphone 4 so that no personal data will be leaked. Backups are stored only locally on encrypted data media. In my long-term practical test, there is a tabular comparison of the apps used for iPhone and Fairphone under the category “Software”.

28.07.2022: At the time they release version 053i, the developers of RethinkDNS have generally removed the possibility of using their firewall with an independent DNS resolver e.g. dnsforge.de. Now Cloudflare and Google are deposited and this makes this software obsolete! I also can't find a viable solution to continue to run the Fairphone 4 as securely as before. So once again I have to look for a privacy-friendly alternative.

Conclusion: Apple iOS

The best value solution: back to my Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max!
04.09.2022: Tonight my iPhone 11 Pro Max becomes my daily driver again. I export all chats from the Threema app from the Fairphone 4 as encrypted files and email them to myself via Tutanota, because I have extra storage space there and everything is end-to-end encrypted.
Then I install Threema from Apple's App Store on the iPhone. Unfortunately, you can't move the chats when you change systems, but if I want to look at an old chat, I can decrypt the archive file and read it on my MacBook. Thanks to Threema Safe, Threema ID (incl. public and private key), nickname, profile picture, contacts (incl. trust level) and group memberships are retained.

Apple macOS – MacBook (Air)

Since Apple does not scan locally without use of “iCloud Photo”, I continue to use macOS (generally avoid any cloud). The MacBook Air (2020) is no longer enough for me. Research into a fanless notebook revealed that the new MacBook Air (2022) with M2 chip is the long-term alternative.

But as soon as I get info that Apple's firmware (iOS/macOS) scans devices locally even without use of iCloud Photo, I switch to Linux!

I just read on the internet that a Linux for Apple Silicon is already being developed and has even reached the stage where at least developers can work with it (in order to make it suitable for ordinary end users/for daily work in the near future).

Even if I had to sell my new MacBook Air M2:
Since a lot of people have figuratively “sold their soul to the devil” (meta corporation) and privacy is a foreign word, I would get a good price for my new MacBook Air with M2 chip even after a big press release (“Apple now scans your device!”) and could buy a powerful Linux notebook with it.

Reference

Keyword list: /e/, Which Operating System

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