Mozilla's Firefox OS eyes mobile domination - with tablets to follow

Mozilla's Firefox OS eyes mobile domination - with tablets to follow

Summary: Mozilla's Firefox OS, shown off at Mobile World Congress, is gaining traction with operators, particularly those in emerging markets, but what does the future hold for the platform?

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Firefox OS
Mozilla is generating a lot of interest with its low-cost, open-source Firefox OS. Image: Stephen Shankland/CNET

Mozilla's Firefox OS efforts are getting a lot of attention at Mobile World Congress 2013 in Barcelona because of the company's plan to bring an open-source, low-cost operating system to emerging markets.

But this isn't the sum of Mozilla's ambitions for the project, according to Andreas Gal, vice president of mobile engineering at the organisation.

Gal explained to ZDNet that while breaking into the market to establish itself as a viable mobile platform is best done at the low end, it is by no means where Mozilla wants Firefox OS to be pigeon-holed.

"Trying to make an iPhone killer doesn't address the majority of the market," Gal said. "Of course we're interested in covering the entire space, there's no reason the web can't be used to build high-end phones, and we will make those phones over time."

It also helps, of course, that there is far less competition at the bottom of the market, which is precisely why Mozilla has more opportunity there than higher up the food chain. However, at the project's conception, smartphones were not the original objective.

"When the project started, tablets were the initial goal that we thought about, a year and a half ago. The goal was to displace proprietary technology in mobile because browser companies like Mozilla were not sufficiently focused on providing good technology for mobile for the web. We provided good APIs for the desktop and [that] grew very nicely, but we didn't provide the same capabilities for mobile," he said.

"Initially we were thinking about tablets as it's a mobile device but it's more similar to the desktop — a bigger screen, you can consume rich content better."

However, while Mozilla was mulling over the tablet form factor, device makers had other ideas.

"I can definitely see us going to tablets in future, right now a lot of opportunities exist in phones" — Andreas Gal, Mozilla

"It became clear very quickly that the volume right now is behind smartphones. Tablets are an interesting next step [...] I can definitely see us going to tablets in future, right now a lot of opportunities exist in phones, at least for this year."

The company also sees future opportunities in a range of different form factors too, from desktops, fridges and cars to wearable technology such as Google Glass.

"I was tweeting a couple of days ago, jokingly, that the first thing I would do with Google Glass [if I won one] is reflash it with Firefox OS, since it's built on Java and JavaScript and HTML5, which really is the future of technology. There are so many different device classes that are possible," Gal said.

A question of identity

While the devices are obviously important to Mozilla, underpinning Firefox OS's core mission is the desire to have a permanent web identity that you take with you however you choose to access the internet, providing all of your content on-demand regardless of the form factor.

"You sign in with your identity and when you purchase an application you really purchase the application for that identity and not the device. For example, if I sign into my identity and purchase the New York Times app and then go to my desktop browser and assign the same identity, I essentially take that content with me," Gal said.

"Content is no longer bound to one specific device, it is now bound to my identity that I can take with me to all these different devices," he added.

Topics: Mobile OS, Mobility, MWC, Open Source, Smartphones, Tablets

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

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11 comments
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  • Firefox OS Prospects

    Considering that it's already managed to garner wider support in the last month than Microsoft's entire Windows Phone 7 and Windows Phone 8 efforts over the previous two years, do you think it has a better chance of succeeding?

    Mmmmmm... could be.
    ldo17
    • ?

      " it's already managed to garner wider support in the last month than Microsoft's entire Windows Phone 7 and Windows Phone 8 efforts over the previous two years"

      Prove it.
      Turismo
  • Bad for privacy

    This sounds great in theory. But as far as privacy goes, this appears to be signaling the end of privacy as well. With other platforms, including desktop and mobile platforms, it is possible to inspect the connections that are being made from the device to remote locations. Since all apps on the Firefox OS devices are not native apps, this is not possible.

    So when the carrier's install their own backdoors in the phones (and you know they will), you will have zero privacy from eavesdropping, packet sniffing, phoning home, etc. Even when on a wifi connection, you will not be able to keep the carrier, or any app that you use for that matter, from sniffing your local LAN.
    FreedomIsExpensive
    • I don't buy it, and neither should you

      Do you honestly believe that HTML5 means that there's no traceability in the apps' behavior? I call BS.
      foolishgrunt
      • Impossible...

        If you can't install code that interacts with the hardware outside the API, how are you going to see what is going on behind the scenes? Example... on my desktop, Firefox allows all kinds of connections to anywhere a site (app) wants to go. And, even Firefox itself phones home. But my firewall intercepts these attempts and alerts me. How is that going to happen when EVERYTHING is in the HTML layer? The answer is that it is impossible to protect your privacy under this HTML only scenario. Unless someone can explain to me how it can be done, I stand firm.
        FreedomIsExpensive
      • iOS and Android Already Leak Private Data

        But at least the user could avoid them and use computing devices that allow installation of any app, especially firewalls. You can do that on iOS and Android devices also if you "break" them and install other ROMs.

        But this is even worse since there are no native apps to install. How can I cook my steak if I don't have access to the stove?
        FreedomIsExpensive
  • far less competition

    It also helps, of course, that there is far less competition at the bottom of the market

    Really? I thought ZTE, Huawei and half of China were operating at the bottom of the market. Having said that, Firefox is a recognisable brand so may win some share on that basis. But do we need another OS? What happened to Palm OS? Any tiny mis-step could kill it dead...
    Technical Pedant
    • Different issues

      PalmOS became WebOS, which only died after HP bought it and underwent a suddent identity crisis before deciding to kill it. Prior to that, it was a successful niche operating system. Since I highly doubt the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation will execute the same insane money-dumping maneuvers as HP did, I don't see Firefox OS sharing the same fate.
      foolishgrunt
  • Firefox OS "domination"?

    Give me a break. Author gaves no proof that it will ever happen. When the OS dies a fast death, people will look at this title and laugh.
    "company's plan to bring an open-source, low-cost operating system to emerging markets." I thought the OS is free?
    No major smartphone player [last I saw] has said they'd use it. Not HTC. Not Samsung. Not Nokia. Sure not Motorola. Maybe Apple will!
    Gisabun
  • No frills. Only thrills

    The wait of numbers in emerging markets could very well see a free 'web based' operating system on low cost phones i.e. $85 or less, outsell even cheap Android units.
    Even though it's very early in the development cycle and lacks the refinement and polish of the latest Jelly Bean, it's easy to recognise it's simplicity and potential appeal.
    It's definitely not a memory hog when the system is lightning fast on a phone with 256MB of ram & 2 GB of onboard storage.
    Check out any of the Youtube videos.
    Firefox O/S in my humble opinion, has the potential to be a giant killer in the short to medium term.
    In the interim, I have just purchased a Nexus 4 and am installing the beta version of Ubuntu on that.
    Ideally, Firefox is the way forward on a high end smartphone or tablet. I'm learning about the virtue of patience. No choice, this great technology can't evolve soon enoigh.
    The Stav
  • So what happens when you lose your signal?

    You Internet "Identity" goes poof? Cell phones are notorious for losing signals. What use is a web-based OS without the web?
    guyonearth