For Firefox OS' first wave of devices, it's Poland or bust

For Firefox OS' first wave of devices, it's Poland or bust

Summary: Poland is one of the initial markets where Firefox OS will be launched, and its performance there will help indicate what future lies ahead for the operating system.

The Firefox OS-powered Keon. Image: CNET

Barring any news of a delay, commercial smartphones running Firefox OS should be launched any day now. The first five markets targeted by Mozilla are not your usual suspects, however.

Originally, Mozilla slated a June launch for Firefox OS mobiles in Poland, Venezuela, Brazil, Portugal, and Spain. In Poland, at least, there has been no sign of the new mobile OS yet.

T-Mobile, Mozilla's main partner in the Central European country, told ZDNet this week that it is aiming for a "June or July" launch for its Firefox OS offerings.

The reason Mozilla chose this particular set of countries to launch first is that its chances of breaking into them are markedly better than in more established markets.

"They mostly picked emerging markets," says Annette Zimmermann, principal analyst at Gartner. "Even though Poland is not really considered an emerging market anymore, you do have a strong Android presence there. You now have Android phones in the $70 or even sub-$70 retail price range in these markets, so it is really the lower end we are talking about."

Zimmermann thinks Mozilla and the carriers hope that Firefox OS could shrink the price gap between normal mobile phones and smartphones. Many people in Poland still use what are known as "feature phones" (a euphemism for ye olde cell phone), and Firefox OS might manage a price point low enough that these users might consider upgrading their hardware.

"The Firefox OS developer phone launched in Spain, the Geeksphone [Keon], is now about $120," Zimmermann says. Because that device is aimed at enthusiasts and developers, she expects Firefox-equipped smartphones will eventually dive under the magic $100 boundary, perhaps eventually hitting $50. "That would be the point that customers still using a feature phone would definitively consider a switch."

An even more important driver is the eagerness of carriers to differentiate and lower their dependency on Samsung, the clear leader when it comes to Android phones. All in all, these are the same reasons Windows Phone is currently doing better in Poland than in other markets.

From Mozilla's point of view, Zimmermann thinks Firefox's marketplace independence will help it (the company is encouraging others to build their own app stores and won't force developers to only sell their apps through its marketplace in the same way Apple and Google largely do).

However, one commonly heard critique of Firefox OS is that such an approach takes away an important quality barrier — while Mozilla will promote so-called "packaged apps" through the Firefox Marketplace, companies also can share their own apps without any Mozilla involvement. "The amount of results can be overwhelming, and some of those results could potentially be badly developed. That could confuse users."

The performance of Firefox OS shows in Poland and the four other primary markets could therefore be an indication whether Mozilla could stand a chance elsewhere. For now, Gartner thinks that a third platform will emerge to take a place between Android and iOS, "and that should be Windows Phone," Zimmermann says.

For Firefox OS, it is pretty much wait-and-see, but she thinks it should rather aim at a "best of the rest" spot. "It has the highest potential in that area," Zimmermann says. "There are 18 carriers supporting it worldwide, so there is strong interest."

Topics: Mobility, Mobile OS, Operating Systems, Smartphones

Michiel van Blommestein

About Michiel van Blommestein

Michiel van Blommestein is a Dutch journalist who has been living in Poland since 2010. He worked as a technology journalist in the Netherlands before moving to Poland to work as a regular correspondent for various news outlets. He still loves the bits and bytes though.

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  • If the OS is anything like the browser...

    ...then I don't place much faith in it. Firefox is still my default browser and still the one I enjoy most working with, but I haven't been able to use JavaScript functions on many sites for many versions now, it keeps on consuming lots of memory inexplicably, it often refuses to terminate its own process and won't open again until I force it to end with Task Manager, and add-ons break with every new version that goes out at a dizzying pace.

    While these problems increasingly annoy me, so far I have been able to cope with them. But I'd be MUCH less tolerant with the same or similar problems happening with a smartphone, which I expect to be rock solid and on which many people critically depend for work or otherwise.
    • Re: it keeps on consuming lots of memory inexplicably

      Sounds like a Windows problem.

      Don't worry, Firefox OS is not running under Windows.
  • As most people on these boards know, I don't like Android

    That doesn't mean I'm unwilling to experiment, however. I, personally, want to get my hands on a Firefox phone to test and get a feel for this all-new (I hope) OS. I'm even willing to try the phone as my primary device for a month, but that doesn't mean I'll swap numbers--only add a new one.

    What I'll be looking for are probably things most techies here look for in a phone. I'm not interested in the ability to "customize" the phone; all smartphones have that ability to a greater or lesser extent. I'm not interested in whether or not it has SD-card capability since I've never, ever needed one on my existing phone--unlike so many Android phones that need one just to carry a usable amount of memory. (Really, just 2GB of storage on some models?) I'll be looking at things like stability, ease of use and reliability. I'll be looking at accuracy of the controls and overall quality of the device and OS. And yes, if it includes cameras I'll even compare picture quality.

    I can't afford to buy and use an example of every platform. Unlike tech bloggers I'm not sponsored by a publisher or offered demonstration devices for commercial review; I have to pay for the things I use and write about. To be honest, this is the first non-Apple product I'm willing to spend my money on for testing purposes. It took Android three years to really come up to iOS' original quality and I expect Firefox OS to take a little time to get there, too. But I still have my iPhone 3G and have the ability to compare them side-by-side in everything except call and data over 3G/4G. Those I'll be comparing against my current iPhone 5.
  • Firefox Browser

    I agree Firefox used to be my default browser untill i had same issues that you mentioned,Chrome is my choice now but a few issues also,such as the embeded Chrome flash player conflicts with Adobe Player.I just disabled it and now it's fine