The Turing Phone Might as Well be Dead
The desire for a truly secure smartphone or mobile device has been had for a long time, even before the “Snowden Revelations”. In fact, it’s the entire reason I started the Dark Android Project, so as to facilitate people’s need for such devices. While the Dark Android Project tells you how to make a secure and private device from almost any tablet or (potentially) smartphone you buy, some manufacturers and crowdfund projects have tried to make them from scratch. Blackphone, Archos’ GranitePhone, and the Turing Phone come to mind.
Of the three I just mentioned, one has yet to ship, and has been met with rampant delays. While I’ve covered its specs and history on my science and tech podcast, Sovryn Tech, I haven’t covered it much on the Dark Android Blog, so if you’re curious about specs, here you go:
Not great, but not terrible specs. And while none of that covers the fact that the Turing Phone has absolutely no external ports (it charges via a proprietary magnetic cable and headphones can only connect via bluetooth, all supposedly for security purposes), there’s one (not so) little problem with the above specs. Turing Robotic Industries (or, TRI, the creators of the Turing Phone), have just announced that the Turing Phone won’t come with Android installed…at all.
Instead, they are going with Jolla’s questionable Sailfish OS. While Sailfish OS is Linux-based and has a compatibility layer that allows it to run Android apps (much like Samsung’s Tizen can, and Blackberry’s OS 10 could), the viability of Sailfish OS is highly questionable, and it comes from a very financially strapped company that has its own problems releasing hardware and software on time (that being Jolla).
This raises huge security concerns for me since Android–while it certainly runs into security issues and likely always will–is a tried-and-true system that has a massive developer community around it that updates and solves any security issues quickly (generally). Sailfish OS has no such community, and no such reputation or history to even consider. Why Turing Robotic Industries didn’t go with Cyanogen, Inc. is beyond me, or even going with CyanogenMod in the raw. It’s such an obvious choice, and such a good idea, that I don’t think the Turing Phone may ever hit the streets (not uncommon with these crowdfunded projects).
SIDE NOTE: Don’t expect to be running any apps from the Google Play Store, either. If the Turing Phone is running Sailfish OS, it’s likely impossible to even run the Google Play Store. Admittedly, for security, this is a good thing, and you could likely just use the F-Droid app store/repository, but when you’re laying down almost $1000 for the Turing Phone, I imagine a lot of people would want to at least have the option of running apps from the Play Store.
To bolster this, news also came along that there is another delay for the Turing Phone, that supposedly being April 2016 instead of Q1 2016. Personally, again, I don’t think that this thing will ever ship, and a lot of people have already laid down pre-order money, and they may well be out of that cash as these crowdfund “companies” will often just delay into perpetuity.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with creating new hardware, or with using an “untested” operating system. Just don’t go taking people’s money for it without delivering, and you better sure as Hell not call it “secure”. How can you possibly say that when so many elements you’re using/developing have absolutely no track record? TRI is off its rocker, and so is almost any other company that’s making these claims (Blackphone’s Silent Circle not included).
In my opinion, if you want secure and private mobile devices, just purchase well-tested hardware (like the 2013 Nexus 7 tablet), load on CyanogenMod or AOSP, and only use the F-Droid app store/repository to get open source apps (but do be selective in which ones you use). No need to go shelling out thousands of dollars to companies that clearly have no fucking idea of what they’re doing.
Bottom line: Even if it does get released one day, the Turing Phone is a sham.