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On the matter of the proposed Pine64 mobile device (a potentially unpopular opinion)
#1
For quite some time, rumors have swirled of Pine64 making a foray into the handheld device market. I've been altogether dismissive of the discussion, because frankly it's a waste of time.and mental real estate mulling over unsubstantiated chatter in tech. But today I read a tweet from Pine64's official handle, and I can't afford to dismiss it. 

To paraphrase the tweet, Pine64 retweeted this article from It's FOSS, with the following addendum: "What do you think ? Should we make a smartphone? Smile"

This is a simple question with an even simpler answer: NO

Pine64 stands alone as the sole company possessing adequate brand recognition, resources, and community involvement to ever pose a serious challenge to Raspberry Pi. We could discuss all day why that competition is so incredibly pivotal, but I think it mostly goes without saying so I won't digress further. 

A mobile device would undeniably divert resources, attention, and time away from development of Pine64's next generation of SoC boards. That's not a likelihood, or a plausibility or a potentiality, that's a downright certitude. By what way of reasoning should Pine64 divert anything from their centerpiece claim to fame? ARM's platform is growing every single day with constant new extensions made to armv8. Just last month, armv8.5 was announced, and the latest extensions are sure to be phenomenal. 

What is Pine64 planning to integrate these extensions into the next lines of Rock64? As far as I know – and please correct me if I'm wrong – there was no attention whatsoever given to integrating the significant extensions released with armv8.4 back in 2017. My point is that Pine64 seems to be of the belief that they've conquered the mountain, and they await the next challenge. Newsflash: they haven't, and the challenge is still upon us. 

I was relatively nonplussed by the Pinebook, as I figured it was a way to broaden Pine64's reach to a new consumer group, and show newcomers to the SoC community what these boards are capable of doing, becoming, and creating. Jumping into the fray that is the mobile market is an entirely different breed of idea. Not only is it fundamentally misguided, it's altogether devoid of reason, purpose, or ambition.

My Pixel 2 XL feels like silk to the touch, because the hardware is such a work of beauty. I love holding this phone in my hand. It's also rooted, so I'm able to flash whatever software my heart desires. It offers literally everything I want in a mobile device. If you suggest that Pine64 can produce a more refined product than this at a comparable price point, you are lying to yourself and you know it. 

This is not an insult or even a critique of Pine64 as a company. Michael Jordan is widely-regarded as the greatest basketball player of all time. One year he tried to switch to baseball. He failed. That doesn't mean he's a lesser athletic talent, it just means he was playing the wrong game. This is more or less Pine64's proposition – they're, in my opinion, the single best and most promising consumer-grade single board computer company in the world, with potential to surpass the most successful SBC company in history by every metric, but they're going to divert funds from that endeavor to go play baseball for a while. Sure. Try that.

Just know this: every single penny that's spent on a doomed-to-disappoint-if-not-fail-miserably phone is a penny that could have been invested in making Pine64's existing product line that much greater and more competitive. And for what? There is already Ubuntu Touch. There is already Android. There is already Purism, a company developing a 100% free and open source phone on which you'll literally be able to install the mainline kernel, and anything else your heart desires.

So what does Pine64 bring to the table with their phone, other than less refined models of what we already have? They're sacrificing advancements to their boards by investing even one penny, one minute, or one more employee hired to accomplish this. That's just a fact - resources are finite, and what a company spends on one thing is money sacrificed elsewhere. So in neglecting further development of what made Pine64 a rockstar company in the first place, what precisely is being delivered in return? What reason in the world is there to deprive your SoC platforms of valuable resources, when the outcome will represent a wholly redundant, utterly pointless novelty device?

I want to see Pine64 succeed. This is not the path to succees. This is not the way to grow our community. This is not the way to take advantage of each new eye-popping extension ARM adds to their ever-growing platform. Someday very soon ARM-based hardware will be commonplace in enterprise server solutions. This nonsense about a phone is just that - nonsense. It will not be successful, and it will squander much of what Pine64 has accomplished, giving valuable ground away to competing companies.

That's all I have to say. I just needed to get this off my chest. I believe in Pine64 as a company and I love working with their boards, but if/when Pine64 begins to lag behind the rest of the market because they're distracted with a futile phone project, I'm going to buy the best boards available. And sadly, if "Pine Phone" goes forward, Pine64 will cease to produce even one of the best boards around in any class by any metric whatsoever.

Thanks for reading.
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#2
Thank you for writing up for such a comprehensive critique. I feel like there are a few points which should be addressed at this stage; the first of which is the relationship to, and comparison with, the RPI Foundation. PINE64 is a company and community in its own right, with its own ideas and goals, most of which are different to those of RPI. We co-exist in the same marketspace, sure, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that we’re in a direct competition. If anything, I feel that PINE64 caters to a different audience in the same space. To this end, we are focusing on building our own niche in the market rather than trying to conquer theirs head-on; let users tied to other projects come and join us when they feel that they are ready for something different (I am also fully aware that most will never make the jump).   

I’ll try, to the best of my ability, address some of your key points pertaining to the PinePhone in detail:

  1. Of course the PinePhone will not be able to compete with your Pixel 2 in any respect. It won’t be as powerful, it won’t be as all-around capable and won’t take pictures that will awe you friends. I am also sure that it will not be as well built. But at no point did we intend to advertise the PinePhone as a substitute for those high-end devices either. It will, however, be a tinkerer’s and Linux enthusiast’s dream - or so we hope; it will be modular, hackable, upgradable and open.
  2. I am not the right person to address the financial side of things, but I wouldn’t worry about how this will device will influence our SBC’s. Just as an example, the Rock64 is getting a Rev 3 update soon (ayufan just got a sample), there is a new-and-improved Pine H64 (model B) on the way and TL will be looking into potential future SOCs for future boards. Do you feel that the Pinebook detracted - quality-wise - from the hardware development of the RockPro64 ? I don’t. I don’t think that the inclusion of the PinePhone will change anything SBC-wise.  
  3. Resources - as in man / dev hours - are a bit of a different story to money. As everyone knows we depend on the community and third-party projects / devs to deliver most of the software for PINE64 hardware. Going back to the example of the Pinebook - it brought in KDE devs who are now here to stay and are now porting Neon to the Rock/Pro64 from what I understand. In the same way, the PinePhone will bring in new devs who are interested in this niche linux filed… I wouldn’t worry about ayufan abandoning his minimal images for the sake of working on the phone. We’re currently talking to UBPorts and KDE guys and they seem happy to support it. Software-wise, I foresee that this will only diversify our dev pool.  
  4. We all want to see PINE64 succeed. It's worth remembering that there are both different paths to and measures of success. You may very well be correct that the PinePhone will not succeed, but it has already allowed us to establish contact with a dedicated team of devs and a brand new community. So, in a sense, it's already successful. I always think that building the projects capacity is its measure of success - more so than financial income or devices themselves.
I fully understand your scepticism, and hope that this and other projects will show that diversifying the PINE64 catalogue is only a good thing. Perhaps this is also the right time to mention that we have other side-projects that are not directly tied to SBCs - which have been worked on and developed for a long time. None of which have detracted from our SBCs or other platforms.

Great critique - thanks once again.
  If you manage to click this link you'll join in the IRC channel
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#3
(10-24-2018, 08:26 AM)Luke Wrote: Thank you for writing up for such a comprehensive critique. I feel like there are a few points which should be addressed at this stage; the first of which is the relationship to, and comparison with, the RPI Foundation. PINE64 is a company and community in its own right, with its own ideas and goals, most of which are different to those of RPI. We co-exist in the same marketspace, sure, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that we’re in a direct competition. If anything, I feel that PINE64 caters to a different audience in the same space. To this end, we are focusing on building our own niche in the market rather than trying to conquer theirs head-on; let users tied to other projects come and join us when they feel that they are ready for something different (I am also fully aware that most will never make the jump).   

I’ll try, to the best of my ability, address some of your key points pertaining to the PinePhone in detail:

  1. Of course the PinePhone will not be able to compete with your Pixel 2 in any respect. It won’t be as powerful, it won’t be as all-around capable and won’t take pictures that will awe you friends. I am also sure that it will not be as well built. But at no point did we intend to advertise the PinePhone as a substitute for those high-end devices either. It will, however, be a tinkerer’s and Linux enthusiast’s dream - or so we hope; it will be modular, hackable, upgradable and open.
  2. I am not the right person to address the financial side of things, but I wouldn’t worry about how this will device will influence our SBC’s. Just as an example, the Rock64 is getting a Rev 3 update soon (ayufan just got a sample), there is a new-and-improved Pine H64 (model B) on the way and TL will be looking into potential future SOCs for future boards. Do you feel that the Pinebook detracted - quality-wise - from the hardware development of the RockPro64 ? I don’t. I don’t think that the inclusion of the PinePhone will change anything SBC-wise.  
  3. Resources - as in man / dev hours - are a bit of a different story to money. As everyone knows we depend on the community and third-party projects / devs to deliver most of the software for PINE64 hardware. Going back to the example of the Pinebook - it brought in KDE devs who are now here to stay and are now porting Neon to the Rock/Pro64 from what I understand. In the same way, the PinePhone will bring in new devs who are interested in this niche linux filed… I wouldn’t worry about ayufan abandoning his minimal images for the sake of working on the phone. We’re currently talking to UBPorts and KDE guys and they seem happy to support it. Software-wise, I foresee that this will only diversify our dev pool.  
  4. We all want to see PINE64 succeed. It's worth remembering that there are both different paths to and measures of success. You may very well be correct that the PinePhone will not succeed, but it has already allowed us to establish contact with a dedicated team of devs and a brand new community. So, in a sense, it's already successful. I always think that building the projects capacity is its measure of success - more so than financial income or devices themselves.
I fully understand your scepticism, and hope that this and other projects will show that diversifying the PINE64 catalogue is only a good thing. Perhaps this is also the right time to mention that we have other side-projects that are not directly tied to SBCs - which have been worked on and developed for a long time. None of which have detracted from our SBCs or other platforms.

Great critique - thanks once again.



If you don't think Pine64 caters to the same end-user as Rpi, you should really look into the ThunderX2, and the multitide of legitimate enterprise-grade boards with as many as 96 cores. This is what compelled Cloudlfare to ditch Intel last Spring in a mass migration of monumental scale. Cloudflare is, as you likely know, a private company so their financials are not in the public domain, but highly credible sources estimate their total valuation in the low billions - I've read as high as 3.2B


What I'm getting at is this: I defy you to name even a single commercial enterprise with the name recognition, profitability, or influence of Cloudflare that would revuew  Pine64's current product line, and see anything even remotely resembling a viable enterprise solution. Here I'll make this quick: no such company exists. So I hope you recognize now why Pine64 is most certainly an direct industry competitor to Raspberry Pi.

Feelings and gut-driven hunches are not the metric by which we classify a board, at least in terms of enterprise vs. consumer. It comes down to hardware schematics and real world performance and you can't tell me RockPro64 is more nearly likable to Rpi than it to, say, this 384 core enterprise-grade board

To be clear, I am not criticizing RockPro64 or any other products (other than Rpi, they need to bundle up their obnoxious proprietary drivers and leap throw themselves on a raging bonfire). They're spectacular CONSUMER-GRADE products for IoT and embedded systems devs to build upon, and casual hobbyists to play around with. In other words, they're fighting for shares of the same market, so you cannot justifiably push this false distinction.

Which brings my point full circle. Pine64 has such stellar documentation, rapid development of software support for new releases, not to mention the best and most energized online following of any board maker in the world. But let's face it: if you buy a PinePhone, it will either feel like cheap trash just holding it in your hand, OR Pine64 could stake a huge bet by pulling out all the stops and giving us a phone sleeker than you've ever thought possible. Crucial caveat: you and other consumers will inherit the burden of higher production cost, so prepare yourself to pay literally thousands – as in a plurality of thousands of dollars – because Pine64 isn't an industry behemoth capable of dictating the terms of every deal they make. 

My Pixel XL 2 feels spectacular but I'm also well aware it likely cost Google literally a handful of pennies to produce. Hell they probably exploited some tax loophole to weasel out of paying anything at all for all I knnufacturing plants more or less beg Google for contracts. I foresee the opposite being true with Pine64. They have no track record in this market, so they're at the mercy of whoever they contract to mass-produce these phones. And that contractor by the way will have a total monopoly on negotiative leverage every step of the way. Meaning they call the shots and Pine64 can either get further distracted with legal action or do what most small companies immediately leap to: giving up and agreeing to pay more .

Which means the rest of you pay more. Unless they're taking the cheap POS phone route. My hunch is they'll take the cheap hardware route, bloat the system with needless KDE crap devouring whatever system resources this phone has to offer (I anticipate feeling profoundly underwhelmed, but we'll see). So you'll either pay more than you should or buy way a lesser phone than you'd ever want. But nobody will because Purism's Librem5 FOSS phone will be out in the next year, and nobody will care about the board company pretending to be a smartphone company.
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#4
Thanks on the inputs and valid concerns, and appreciate on your anticipation in teh forum.

- PINE64 and Raspberry Pi are in same market - Single Board Computer.

- From recent Linux Phone history, the experience remind us that making Linux phone can be a dead trap.

- Currently we provide SoPine module + based board with Wifi/BT + 7" LCD Touch Panel + Playbox + Lithium Battery case + LTE dongle to Linux mobile community for software development.

- PINE64 will create a new SoPine based board with 5.45" 1440x720 LCD panel and miniPCIe connector for LTE module, and several essential sensor such as GPS, barometer, magneto and etc. This serve as a PinePhone developer board. We plan to demo at FOSDEM 2019.

- Considers PinePhone learning process, such as collaborating with Linux mobile communities, is more important than producing the PinePhone itself. Some of the collaboration development results can be utilized for projects such as IoT gateway, POS, outdoor sensor collection station, interactive kiosk, and ......
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#5
sure, why not. stretch what community dev support you have real thin across multiple underselling products and of course the correct response is to add yet more. albert, of makerphone fame is currently @ ~$200,000US on kickstarter for a 2G build it yourself phone so many people are certainly interested in alternatives. there are not only a few reasons that you could not do a "phone" but i'm pretty sure at this point those would fall on deaf ears. keyword is focus, you have been in the sbc business what? 3 years maybe? what would you say is the biggest mistake you have made in those 3 years?
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#6
Forget three years, this would be the SBC market's analogue to the AOL/Time Warner merger - a catastrophic failure on a legendary scale. It will dilute the brand, stagnate platform growth, and deliver a spectacular slap in the face to the hard-working folks who donate our time and energy to this company only to be presented with the most vapid exercise in stupidity conceivable. Why not make a PineZune while you're at it?

Firefly (subsidiary of T-Chip) is already exploring greater AI integration, and their RK3399 stands neck-and-neck with RockPro64 – Firefly's board is already the better product as it is, so if there were ever a time to pour every resource into Pine64's supposed flagship board, that time is now. If not months ago, but it is what it is.

If you guys are serious about this PinePhone, I wish you the best of luck. But dkryder is absolutely correct: Pine64 can either expand upon what they've accomplished, or squander it all on some braindead vanity epedition like a PinePhone.

P. s. 2G phone lmao that's too funny.
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#7
(01-06-2019, 10:50 PM)hiccupstix Wrote: Forget three years, this would be the SBC market's analogue to the AOL/Time Warner merger - a catastrophic failure on a legendary scale. It will dilute the brand, stagnate platform growth, and deliver a spectacular slap in the face to the hard-working folks who donate our time and energy to this company only to be presented with the most vapid exercise in stupidity conceivable. Why not make a PineZune while you're at it?

Firefly (subsidiary of T-Chip) is already exploring greater AI integration, and their RK3399 stands neck-and-neck with RockPro64 – Firefly's board is already the better product as it is, so if there were ever a time to pour every resource into Pine64's supposed flagship board, that time is now. If not months ago, but it is what it is.

If you guys are serious about this PinePhone, I wish you the best of luck. But dkryder is absolutely correct: Pine64 can either expand upon what they've accomplished, or squander it all on some braindead vanity epedition like a PinePhone.

P. s. 2G phone lmao that's too funny.

PINE64 has community table setup at FOSDEM on next month and there will be several new products and ideas floating around., If you plan to attend, looking forward to meet up and chat, even beer together.
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#8
Quote:PINE64 has community table setup at FOSDEM on next month and there will be several new products and ideas floating around., If you plan to attend, looking forward to meet up and chat, even beer together.

If I might, I disagree with Hiccupsticks on two points. 
  1. RPi and Pine/Rock64 are in similar but not the same markets. RPi is deliberately low powered, aimed at the education/tinkerer market. Pine is higher powered, much more suited to real world applications. It is in the Odroid/Asus tinker board market.
  2. I would love to see a phone that is outside of the Android data trawling market and outside of the locked down Apple eco sphere. 
I use a Ubuntu touch phone, which has considerable shortcomings, but my personal data stays with me, and I can use it for the things I want to do rather than the things Apple has decided I should be confined to. In no way can I afford Purism's Librem5 FOSS phone.
So, Pine, for me, bring it on or maybe I'm the only potential customer.
Rock 64 4GB. Evaluating desktops using Armbian-Debian-Stretch/DietPi-Stretch/Bionic-LXDE
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#9
Thumbs Up 
I saw how Librem 5 phone is programmed by it's team and therefore I hope, that your phone project will be successful and I will be able to hack on some cheap device by myself.
Even a plastic case and no funky stuff will be great for good price.

So good luck with phone project!
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