Still Gapp-less?

Trebuchet3

Back in July, I decided to go Google App-less, or gappless. Cold turkey. No baby steps, just quit using Google Apps on my phone. Of course, this is possible only with custom ROMs, and then I don’t install the Google Apps packages into those ROMs. I don’t want to belabor the point, but the one thing I want to say about going gappless is: I can’t even tell they’re gone.

I thought it would be a little inconvenient, or that it would be difficult to work with on a day to day basis, but the truth is, since going gappless, I don’t even notice a difference. Other than using a few different apps to do the exact same thing I was doing before, nothing has changed. Kind of makes me wonder what all those Google Apps were for anyways….

Truth be told, Google does make some great apps. But most of the time, even before going gappless, I wasn’t using them anyways. For instance, GMail is a great app, but I have multiple email accounts (because of work, etc.) and so I was using a different email app (librem, K-9, even AquaMail at one point) for all of my phone email needs.

The only big ticket item was the Play Store, which now I realize I can get just about any app (well, any app I ever needed) from F-Droid, Aptoid, or Amazon Apps. The other contender being Google Photos to store all of my pictures. Of course, if you’ve been around my blog a while, you’ve surely seen my home piwigo photo storage system, so I wasn’t using Google Photos either.

Overall, looking long term at my phone these past few months, my battery typically has a higher charge at the end of the day. Typically I was seeing around 60-65% at the end of the day, now I see about 70-80% when I get ready for bed. My data plan uses less data, usually in the 500 MB to 1 GB per month range over these past few months as well, which is a plus. Also, my phone uses about 200 MB ram to run during the day.

I’m actually not writing this to bash on Google or their apps. They actually work really well if you use them. I am writing this to answer that question that I’ve been asked dozens of times lately: “Are you still gappless? How’s that working out for you?” Truth is, yes, and I don’t even miss it.

Linux – keep it simple.

Google Apps on the SODP AOSP for the XA2 Ultra?

As you know, I’ve gone Google App-less, or “gappless”. But, for better or worse, not all of my ROM users have done the same. Typically, when you build a custom ROM, you build it without things like ROOT or GAPPS, and leave it to the ROM user to decide what they would like to install. In the case of installing GAPPS, they typically use TWRP to flash an opengapps zip file that installs all the desired Google Apps.

This is useful, because there are lots of Google Apps, and users may want some of them, but not all of them. Thus, when you install your zip from opengapps, you choose how many Google Apps you would like, pico, nano, mini, stock, full, etc., the bigger the tag, the more Google Apps you get.

Unfortunately, my SODP based AOSP ROM has an issue with Gapps. As I said, I don’t use Gapps anymore, but my users reported that they could not install Gapps. So I tried installing it myself to see what the issue was. Sure enough, it would install properly, but when you booted into the phone, the Gapps were not there! It was as if they never installed. I’d like to take credit for the Gapps resistant ROM, but it was purely unintentional.

So, this may seem counter productive, but I’ve release a build with built in Gapps as well. Since the end user can’t install it themselves, you can actually follow opengapps guide to build your ROM with Gapps included in the build. While I don’t like using Gapps anymore, I certainly want others to have the freedom to do so. The only difficult thing was figuring out which level of Gapps to include. In the end I decided with “stock”, which is less that full or all, and more than pico, nano, and mini. I figure that if you want Gapps, you probably want the standard, or stock amount of programs.

The only downside, is it makes my build almost three times the size! Believe me, it took three times longer to upload too! I think next go around, I’ll probably use mini for the Gapps level, to save myself some uploading bandwidth. I of course, still release my own builds without Gapps, for those so inclined.

Linux – keep it simple.

Going Gapp-Less, Again….

Trebuchet

Don’t worry, you can put the tinfoil hats away. That being said, I’m going Google App Less (gappless) again. A few years back, I tried to go gappless, and it was rather difficult. Everything seemed to be tied into Google somehow, and I just couldn’t make it with the limited number of apps available outside the Google Play Store. This time around, however, is a different story.

With my new Xperia XA2 Ultra, I decided to flash LineageOS 16 (android pie), but I also decided not to flash the Google Apps package (Gapps). So, my phone was complete, without any of Google’s apps, such as the Play Store, Gmail, Google Photos, etc. It’s not that I distrust Google. I’m just not sure if I trust them. So, I thought I’d see how well it works to go without them for a while.

The truth is: I haven’t even noticed they’re gone.

The big things that you need to replace though, if you don’t have Google’s apps, are gmail, app stores, calendar, and photo backup and sharing.

The first thing I did was use the Chromium browser (the open source front runner of Google Chrome, essentially, Chrome without Google’s additives), and downloaded F-Droid. This app “store” is a repository of free and open source apps.

I know what you’re thinking, but F-Droid has come a long, long way since it’s humble beginnings. There are a lot of high quality apps on there now, covering just about every major category. Not only are there tons of apps in it, they are all free and open source. F-Droid even has an update system that makes sure you keep your apps current!

qksms

From there I downloaded QKSMS for all of my texting needs. It’s one of the best texting apps out there, open or closed source! (I borrowed the above picture so as not to show you all of my contacts….) It’s high quality, open source, easy to use and very nice to look at.

I also downloaded Librem Mail to handle all of my emails and replace the Gmail app. It supports multiple accounts, works great with Gmail and other mail accounts (like SDF) and supports PGP encryption as well. I really like it. The color coding and unified inbox is great.

Of course, I also downloaded AndBible, an open source Bible reading app, and FOSS Browser for web surfing, and AsteroidOS’s app to sync to my LG Watch Urbane smart watch (running AsteroidOS). A chess clock app, and several games like frozen bubble. Amaze for file browsing, Android CUPS for printing, GetBack GPS and PocketMaps and SatStat for GPS navigation, and a few other odds and ends.

I needed a calendar replacement, and I tried several, but Simple Calendar is my favorite. It can import “.ics” extensions, which you can export from your old Google calendar online and put onto your phone. It’s not synced with my Google calendar, but that is what I was trying to avoid anyways. I’d show some pics, but I have a lot of work related things on my calendar that I can’t show here. But it supports customization for color. The author likes orange, but I prefer blue, and fortunately you can change the color scheme.

The other big elephant in the room is a replacement for the Google Photo app with unlimited storage, which is really, really hard to beat. This is actually what started my most recent kick to try going gappless, as there is now more information about how they process photos is becoming more interesting and complex. Actually, they were talking about it in 2015 and 2017. For this reason, I set up my own home server running Piwigo photo manager.

I know you probably think I’m crazy, but consider this: on my home server version of Piwigo, without any AI intelligence looking at my photos, each photo comes in with exif data, which can (and usually does) include stats for each photo, date, time, location, phone/camera taken with, aperture data, etc. Without even trying, on the exif data alone, Google *could* know your location, what kind of phone you have, etc.

Even without location enabled, the date/time stamp plus amount of sunlight can narrow down where in the world you are with little effort (I know, I used to navigate a submarine in the Navy, and we would use stars and sun position to double check our navigation equipment). Let alone if they actually look at the photo. They would know all your friends, who you are related to, what you like to eat, what kind of car you drive, etc.

Anyways, off the hobby horse.

So, after installing Piwigo on my home server (you can host them online at BlueHost or other places as well), I then installed a simple app called SyncTool from F-Droid which allows me to FTP sync my phone’s camera folder to my home computer. For all of this, you don’t actually need something like Piwigo, but it is nice that my wife and I can use the open source app (there are non open source ones too) or a web browser to view our photos or share them with friends.

So far, it’s worked out really, really well. Albeit, you would need to be a little more tech savvy to set this up yourself. Fortunately, you could host it places that will help you with that, but then you get back to cloud storage. At least with my home server, I know exactly who’s looking at my photos.

On the other hand, all you need is a USB cable to just copy your photos to your computer every now and then. Just saying.

You might be wondering though, what about that closed source app I really need/want? Well, I have a few of those, like Bluino Loader, and arduino tool for using your phone to program arduino devices through the OTG cable. Well, it’s not open source, and not in the F-droid repository. Fortunately for me, though, there is Aptoide.

Aptoide comes in two variants, full and lite. I use the “lite” version myself. It uses less bandwidth and works faster, in my opinion. Aptoide is a Google Play Store alternative. The apps in this store are scanned with several virus scanners to ensure a good clean product. I’ve never had any issues with it myself.

For the most part, with a few exceptions, any non-paid app you can find on the Play Store seems to be here in Aptoide. It seems like they download the latest versions from the Play Store and host them here. Users can also make their own app store to host their own apps. (I did that once before… probably an old post about it on here somewhere.)

It has an update function, and you can also search back for old versions of the software, which is handy, like going back to the version before they started putting adds in! I’m not sure if it is regulated quite as well as the Play Store, and certainly not as well as F-Droid, so be careful to make sure the file scans virus free.

Another alternative is Amazon’s app store, which hosts all the usual paid apps you might need. One thing to keep in mind, though, is many apps require Google’s services running in the background to work. Thus far, I haven’t had a single issue with any of the apps I installed, though, which you can see is quite a few of them. Maybe you should try going gappless….

Linux – keep it simple.

Google’s Play Console App

Most people who are placing their apps on the Google Play Store are already aware of the Android version of the Play Console App. It’s an app to monitor the distribution of your apps. At first I was a bit skeptical of why I would need this tool, but I have to admit, it is a pretty handy to for keeping track of your apps which are on the Play Store.

It is a fairly straightforward and intuitive tool. Click on the app that you want to see and you will be instantly greeted with all the usual statistics you need. One one page they have placed the latest installs/uninstalls as well as your feedback and ratings. They even included your recent crashes that were reported to Google. That’s a lot of information in one spot.

By the way, if your version doesn’t look like mine, you might want to try out substratum for theme options. Here I am using Pitch Black Origins.

Some of the greatest features are the instant alerts if you want to know the minute that someone leaves you a review. For instance, you can select to know when you get any review, or if you just want reviews for 1 or 5 or any other number of stars. I can see how that might actually get annoying, if you were to develop an app that millions of people download, but for a small time app maker like myself, it doesn’t happen often enough to be a problem.

Another great feature is being able to read the reviews and respond to them. I was sure to show you one of my all time favorite comments that I received. But, for better or worse, it is nice to get a notification and an opportunity to respond to your customer feedback.

One thing I have noticed, though, is that there is a delay between collected data, and data pushed to your device. The ratings and customer reviews seem to happen instantly, but the data for the statistics seems to be one to three days behind. That’s not much of an issue for me, my apps stats are changing so slowly that it is easy to catch up, but if you needed the moment by moment charts, you might be better off by logging into the Play Console website instead.

While I haven’t searched out the depths of the Play Console App, I think it is a pretty neat tool overall. It’s great to get all of those statistics at a glance for your app.
Linux – keep it simple.