Most consumers probably want a smartphone with more RAM, but the highlight of Mozilla's newish Flame handset is that it lets developers dial it down when they want.
Building a mobile ecosystem in the shadow of iOS and Android seems an impossibly tough task, but Mozilla is pressing ahead with its effort to encourage developers to build HTML5 apps for low-cost devices chiefly aimed at emerging markets.
Since May, developers could pre-order the first official Firefox OS reference phone, Flame, which Mozilla started shipping in July when the preorder period expired. The company on Thursday decided to re-announce the fact it was shipping the Flame, coupled with a new blog outlining how developers could use it.
The $170 Flame is an unlocked dual-SIM 3G touch phone with 1GB of RAM, a 1.2GHZ dual-core processor, a 4.5-inch 854x480 pixel screen, and comes with a five-megapixel rear camera and two-megapixel secondary one.
As Chris Heilman, Mozilla's principal evangelist for HTML5, notes, Flame's 1GB RAM makes it good for daily use, but not exactly representative of commercially available Firefox devices. While Geeksphone's dual-boot Revolution shared similar specs to the Flame, it was aimed only at developers and, without carrier distribution, was technically not classified as a Firefox OS phone.
Devices carrying the Firefox OS brand are markedly different from the Flame, such as Alcatel's One Touch Fire, which has 256MB RAM or ZTE Open C with 512MB RAM.
Meanwhile, other ultra-cheap and presumably low-specced Firefox OS devices are due soon include one from Chinese maker Spreadtrum. They're aimed at emerging markets including India, Indonesia, and China.
So, the news from Mozilla yesterday is actually a set of new instructions explaining how developers can use ADB to wind back the Flame's 1GB RAM to test how their app would perform on a device with 256MB, for example.
Mozilla's attempt to break into the mobile market comes as Android OEMs increasingly aim to push down prices, while Microsoft is angling for a way to bring would-be Nokia 130 consumers over to its lower-end Lumia phones.