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

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?
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor
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.

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