Mozilla's Firefox OS: Four big mobile questions

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?
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

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.


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