While Android and iOS might be the leaders, they are far from the only mobile operating systems on the market. We have Windows Phone and Blackberry, and many newcomers such as Tizen and Ubuntu for Phone/Tablet. So is there room for Mozilla Firefox OS? Mozilla seems to think so.
The new mobile OS has made a pretty big splash at MWC 2013, showing off its first handsets by Alcatel and ZTE. What really makes Firefox OS different from the competition is that it isn’t trying to win over the hardcore mobile smartphone user.
They understand that the big boys already have this market by the horns, and instead they wish to expand into the developing world and also attract consumers in countries like Europe and the United States by offering competitive, entry-level devices running on open standards.
So what exactly is Firefox OS?
Somewhat reminiscent of WebOS, Firefox OS is all about using open web standards, making it easy for web developers to program apps for the OS. It is also open source, which means anyone with coding knowledge can help expand and improve the experience.
In many ways it is also similar to Chrome OS for Chrome computers, though it seems to have a little more of a traditional layout and while Chrome OS is starting to grow its library of offline-capable apps, all of Firefox’s apps will have the option to either be stored locally for off-line or ran directly as a web-app for conserving storage space and more.
A look at the apps available for Firefox OS
As for the apps included with Firefox OS? There will be usual suspects like an integrated dialer, messaging, the Firefox browser, Nokia maps, and email. Beyond that though, they are already prepping their marketplace to offer goodies like Facebook, Twitter, TimeOut, and Disney apps like “Where’s My Water”.
What really makes Firefox OS different though is that it could actually entice carriers in a big way. Why? They leave quite a bit of control up to the carriers, even making fully possible for consumers to purchase apps on the Marketplace directly through the carrier. This likely means that carrier’s get a piece of the pie when it comes to app sales, and it also makes it easier for contract-carrying consumers to buy apps: they will simply see the charges added to their monthly bills.
Another interesting thing about Firefox OS is that all paid apps will be able to be tested before buying, through a “one-time use” trial.
The Hardware as we currently know it.
At the moment, there are two announced handsets that will run Mozilla’s Firefox OS, the ZTE Open and Alcatel One Touch Fire.
The Open is a 3.5-inch device with a modest 480 x 320 display. The phone is powered by an A5-based Qualcomm processor clocked around 1GHz with a measly 256MB of RAM. The internal storage is also quite tiny at just 512MB with a included 2GB microSD card. Connectivity options include WiFi, 3G, Bluetooth, GPSm and FM radio. There is also a 3.2MP camera on the back of the phone.
Alcatel One Touch Fire
If you were hoping for more power here, you will be disappointed. The Touch Fire is a 3.5-inch phone with a 1GHz Qualcomm CPU, 256MB of RAM, 512MB storage, microSD with included 2GB card, 3G, WiFi, GPS, Bluetooth and FM radio. The camera is also a 3.2MP shooter and the battery is 1400mAh.
As you can see, these are REALLY basic devices. These devices are meant for their launch markets like Brazil, where a smartphone on the cheap sounds like a great plan, even if the specs aren’t much better than a typical “dumb phone”.
In countries in Europe and North America? It is doubtful we will see the One Touch Fire or Open. Mozilla is also partnering with LG and Huawei for hardware, which are more likely to be the partners they choose for (hopefully) more upscale yet still lower-end devices down the road.
When is Firefox OS coming?
Impressively, Mozilla has announced tons of partnerships, including 18+ carriers with a constantly growing list. The first markets expected to see the hardware will be Brazil, Hungary, Mexico, Colombia, Mexico, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Venezuela.
As for the United States and Western Europe? The platform likely won’t launch until 2014.
But can it really compete?
That’s good question. Based on hands-on reviews coming in from the net, the existing ZTE Open and Alcatel One Touch Fire are sluggish and the operating system itself is a bit buggy – but the hardware is still a few months out from shipping to its first few markets. Additionally, just because it is running a little choppy on 256MB of RAM doesn’t mean it will be the same story when brands like LG launch hardware, as I highly doubt their offerings would have less than 512MB of RAM.
To put it frankly, it is just too early to judge. While operating systems that lean heavily on open web technologies haven’t exactly taken off in a big way just yet, Firefox’s modest approach of going first after developing countries and second after first-time smartphone users could potentially pay off if they play their cards right.
The biggest challenges will be convincing consumers that haven’t made the jump to a smartphone just yet that Firefox OS is worthy of their time. The second issue will be building up their store and continuing to expand partnerships with hardware vendors, app developers and others in the mobile industry. What do you think, interested in Firefox OS or not?