Mozilla's Firefox OS: Four big mobile questions

Mozilla's Firefox OS: Four big mobile questions

Summary: The Firefox OS lined up a bevy of carrier partners and made a bit of a splash at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Is that enough to be a real contender?


Mozilla outlined its Firefox OS mobile platform, served up some notable screens and highlighted a bevy of global carrier partners in emerging and developed markets. Although the initiative is notable, Mozilla's efforts---much like Ubuntu's plans----are shadowed by a bevy of questions.

Credit: Mozilla

Indeed, 18 operators, an open ecosystem and a key features is a good start. But it's a bit uncertain how seriously we should take Mozilla, which doesn't exactly have a history mobile dominance. A big splash at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona doesn't guarantee success.

The biggest questions about Mozilla's Firefox OS revolve around credibility, timing and whether there's room for yet another mobile platform. With that backdrop, here are the four big mobile questions Mozilla will have to answer over time.

Is the Firefox OS credible? In a word: Yes. The credibility factor was established when 17 operators---América Móvil, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Hutchison Three Group, KDDI, KT, MegaFon, Qtel, SingTel, Smart, Sprint, Telecom Italia Group, Telefónica, Telenor, TMN and VimpelCom---committed to Mozilla's open web device initiative. Telstra in Australia will also look at Firefox OS to bring features to customers.

The main takeaway from that list of operators is this: Firefox OS has emerging market support. Firefox OS doesn’t have to be a rock star in the U.S. or EU when the mobile growth will come from places like Brazil, Mexico and China. The first wave of Firefox OS devices will largely land in emerging markets. Also see: CNET: Global allies give Mozilla's Firefox OS a mobile foothold | Alcatel One Touch Fire: Hands-on with the first Firefox phone | Mobile World Congress coverage

Can HTML5 really carry a mobile operating system? Mozilla's Firefox OS will be "the first built entirely to open Web standards." In other words, every feature in Firefox OS will be an HTML5 app. On paper, that move sounds good. The reality is that Facebook had to go native with its apps to improve performance over HTML5 versions. HTML5's promise of write once and hit multiple screens will happen, but may not develop in time to make Firefox OS sing.

Credit: CNET


Credit: Geeksphone

Will Mozilla line up applications for its ecosystem? Mozilla has strategic pacts with content and service providers, who won't mind yet another mobile OS because Firefox OS is all HTML5. The big question is whether consumers and smartphone buyers will really be ready to move on to an all HTML5 app environment. Mozilla's initial statement on partners indicates that the platform will have many of the hot apps to keep your kids occupied. Geeksphone is running with the Firefox OS developer preview full speed. 

Does timing matter? Among Mozilla partners, Telefonica and América Móvil said 2013 will start Firefox OS devices. Other partners were mum. In a nutshell, Firefox OS devices will hit Latin America first. According to The Verge, Firefox OS phones will land in the U.S. in 2014. That year also is a big deal for Ubuntu. It's unclear whether that timing is too late to matter.

After all, Windows Phone or BlackBerry 10 could get traction. Everyone is rooting for a No. 3 mobile platform. The cheering section for a No. 4 mobile platform is largely empty.

Bottom line: Mozilla is off to a fine start with the Firefox OS master plan. Time will tell if Mozilla and its gang of operators can execute it.


Topics: Mobility, Mobile OS, Open Source, Smartphones

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  • "Facebook had to go native with its apps to improve performance over HTML5"

    Wasn't that on iOS and Android because neither have HTML5 as a native language? Won't it run great on Firefox on HTML5 since it's the native language in this case? I'm confused. :X
    • you sir

      are correct
    • I am confused too

      What I remember is that HTML5 was the only option on my original iPhone and it was a horrible option. Owners had to get very vocal to pressure Apple into allowing 3rd party applications. They opened up the OS to 3rd party apps by opening the App Store. Nevertheless, Jobs had previously been quite explicit that apps would run in the browser using HTML5.

      Once native apps became an option, of course everyone switched to a more stable and better performing platform. Would you prefer to have you app appear as a icon on the home screen, or as a bookmark in a browser? The logic of my last question probably would not apply to FFOS, where the HTML5 apps probably aren't running within a browser app. I also expect that HTML5 apps can run offline on FFOS, something that is problematic in the original iPhone OS.
  • Nokia and a cheap WP8 OS

    If Nokia could release a cheap WP8 phone that costs about $49 to $75, then Ubuntu and Firefox will have a tough time in emerging markets. I don't see Ubuntu and Firefox coming anywhere near the 6th spot in the next 3 years.
    • You must be living in a different planet ...

      .... because WP8 phone are being advertized FOR FREE since pretty much the 1st week and people are still not buying them.
      • people are still not buying them

        really? Let see on the top rated smartphones:

        4 first place belongs to Nokia, and there is many more WP8 phones...
        • Re: people are still not buying them

          Why are the top four the same model in four different colours?

          I smell gaming afoot...
        • OK

          So I went to the page you listed and saw the title "Top Rated in Cell Phones With Service Plans". Then to find out popularity, which is what you are trying to refute, click on the "Best Sellers" link on the right column. Out of the top 20, only two are not Android phones: #8 and #19. #19 is a Samsung flip phone, obviously not WP8. #8 is the Samsung Brightside, which also isn't WP8. In fact, going through the list, the first WP8 phone comes in at #26 and there are only five in the top 50.
      • phones

        Where exactly are these "free" wp8 phones?...I'd be all over that
        • In My Area

          Nokia Lumina 822 is a free phone (with a 2 year service contract).
    • $49

      The 820 has been $49.99 with contract since it came'm guessing they will have a hard time
      • With a contract ...

        the price is almost irrelevant.
    • More ignorance

      Nokia must pay the MS tax, hence FF has a great opportunity. The hardware costs do not vary much once the specs are nailed down.

      Of course, given that you are a very "prolific" MS shill, you have to post a MS plug, even if mindlessly stupid.
      • D.T.Long .....Isn't the real answer right in from of us

        "Firefox OS has emerging market support. Firefox OS doesn’t have to be a rock star in the U.S. or EU when the mobile growth will come from places like Brazil, Mexico and China."

        They have the right idea.....go where the real oppertunity for them lies ........ lots of people in those markets............. less market trends to buck, etc, etc .....
        Over and Out
        • Thank you for paying attention to the article before posting

          I found the preceding argument quite annoying when the article was clear about the emerging markets angle. The Amazon best sellers are irrelevant. Another problem with Amazon best sellers is that a large percentage of phones are purchased through carriers directly or at Apple stores.
  • One more question....

    When are they going to do something about that butt-ugly interface?

    Pssst!!! Mozilla!!! Take a look at the Ubuntu phone interface.
    Hallowed are the Ori
    • personally

      I just want Ubuntu to succeed on phones & tablets. I don't care much about FFOS.
    • It is ugly

      I'm surprised on the interface since FF usually makes them pleasant to look at but on this phone its more of an eye sore. The ubuntu phone isn't any better.
      • Yea, no BSOD eye candy

        n t
  • Microsoft/Apple tax - Good point

    The only way Ubuntu or Firefox will get tracking (and it might be the only reason they're getting any attention right now) is if it ends up that neither violate Microsoft's or Apple's patents, if they end up having to pay the same amount and Android users, there will be no point to them.