At Mobile World Congress, Mozilla has previewed the first commercial build of its Firefox mobile operating system ecosystem.
Firefox OS devices will launch with Firefox Marketplace, Mozilla’s answer to the App Store or Google’s Play, with games, news, business apps and more on offer. Apps such as Airbnb, Cut the Rope, EA games, Facebook and Nokia HERE, Nokia’s re-branded mapping service, as well as Twitter and SoundCloud will launch with Marketplace, Mozilla said.
Mobile apps were generally built with Web technologies such as HTML5 and then wrapped in proprietary technology to distribute on a specific platform, Mozilla said.
“Mozilla is unlocking the Web as a mobile development platform with Firefox Marketplace and unwrapping mobile apps to enable more opportunity and control for developers and consumers.”
The open Web platform as a marketplace for apps had the potential to be the world’s largest, and this, plus the web APIs Mozilla had developed would enable developers to distribute apps directly, with no need for gatekeepers.
Firefox OS would also include a feature to create a one-time use or downloadable app by entering a search term.
“Creating and consuming these apps on demand puts users in complete control of their app and smartphone experience and will make it possible for people to get the exact content they want, when they want it.”
17 operators on board
The organisation also announced rollout plans, with 17 operators on board, including Hutchison Three Group, Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom.
The devices would roll out in Brazil, Columbia, Hungary, Spain, Venezuela and Poland, among others, with additional markets to be announced “soon” – no word on the United Kingdom as yet. Roll out was planned for later this year, Mozilla said.
The company was working with Alcatel, LG and ZTE to build the first devices, with Huawei to follow suit later in the year.
The smartphones would be the first built to open Web standards, Mozilla said, with every feature developed as an HTML5 application.
Deustche Telekom board chairman Rene Obermann said the company relied on open platforms because it wanted to create freedom of choice on behalf of its customers.
“That’s why we support Mozilla in developing an innovative and open standard for mobile terminals. The launch of the first smartphone in Europe with the new Firefox operating system is an important step on the way to more competition between the different ecosystems.”
Hutchison Whampoa Europe deputy chairman Christian Salbaing said the Three Group was supportive of the Mozilla initiative to provide an open approach to services for operators and to provide entry level devices at a more affordable price.
“We believe the introduction of Firefox to mobile devices will increase competition in operating systems, improve consumer choice and hopefully lower overall device costs, bringing smartphones and advanced services within the reach of more of our customers.”
Firefox OS has walked the walk
Ovum principal analyst Tony Cripps said Firefox OS had achieved something no device software platform had previously managed by translating talking shop into a huge commitment from both carriers and hardware vendors at its commercial launch.
“Neither Android nor Symbian ‘ the closest benchmarks in terms of broad industry sponsorship that we’ve previously seen ‘ have rallied the level of support that Firefox OS has achieved so early in its development.”
This was a huge achievement for what had looked like an underdog amongst so many other options vying for the “third ecosystem” foothold, including Windows Phone and BlackBerry 10, which looked like better best on the surface, Mr Cripps said.
“As such, the Mozilla Foundation and its early sponsors, especially Telefonica, deserve considerable credit.”
Software quality and experiences will tell
While it was tempting to think Firefox OS’s perceived neutrality, particularly with regards to the needs of operators, had provided motivation for support, the real acid test for the mobile operating system and its prospects was the quality of the software and the user and developer experiences, Mr Cripps said.
Until the devices were seen, however, it would be difficult to tell whether the OS met those needs; what was clear from the demo handsets was that they were still com way from being market ready, being both slow and buggy, he said, something that had to be overcome before being released to consumers.
“Even low-cost smartphones ‘ the primary target market for Firefox OS ‘ can’t afford to hide behind price as a justification for poor performance. This is especially true at a time when upgraded feature phones, such as Nokia’s Asha Touch and Samsung’s Rex ranges, are gradually eating into the low-end Android market.”