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I would like to reuse an older Android phone as a digital controller for some applications. It would basically be a browser (or webkit) running full screen (which would display some buttons via javascript which in turn would interact with a backend API).

I have a similar (non-touch, display only) solution on Linux where I start at the end of the boot process xinit /path/to/xinit/config, where /path/to/xinit/config opens the browser full screen. Before xinit there is no concept of GUI, xinit starts the graphics core and then runs one single application (the browser). /path/to/xinit/config, before launching the browser at the end, does some logistical (non-GUI) tasks.

Is this a scenario which is replicable on Android? I would like to ensure that the only graphical element running is the browser (including the notification area, launcher, ...).

In other words: is it possible to boot Android into a "headless" (console) mode, and then start the GUI core with just one application?

Note: this is different from a classical "kiosk mode" where one tries to lock out users from accessing other elements of the GUI via an app. I do not have any security/usability considerations as this simple display will run in a safe environment.

EDIT: as pointed out by @Firelord, there were other similar questions but I feel they deal more with a classical kiosk mode than with the separation of the console vs GUI mode.

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