A new front in the mobile phone wars looks set to open as a Mozilla Firefox-type operating system is to be launched on phones bringing manufacturers head to head with Android (currently holding 60% of the market) and Apple’s iOS.
There are other players already jostling hard for a slice of the software pies, including Micrososft, Samsung’s Bada and RIM.
Firefox already has the backing of Telecom Italia, Deutsche Telekom, Sprint, Smart, Telenor and Etisalat, according to news agency Reuters. Phone makers TCL Communication Technology (Alcatel brand) and ZTE will offer the first Firefox OS phones applying Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors in 2013.
Key Emerging Markets
There is expected to be a trial with Telefonica’s Vivo in Brazil before Firefox-powered smartphones are launched into emerging markets. The strategy is well considered but is reliant on broad support from the manufacturers and existing telecom companies, not to mention capturing the imagination and pockets of customers.
Some analysts think it will successfully compete with Android particularly, because unlike other attempts to challenge their monopoly, Firefox will not have to start from scratch with what Tarmo Virki on Reuters called ‘the ecosystem around the platform: developer tools, applications, developer community.’
They will ‘tap into’ a community of up to five million web developers and most of the apps are already created on HTML5 with some core Linux elements, ‘the preferred standard for creating mobile browser content.’ Without the growing support/enthusiasm of developers and manufacturers, the project is doomed.
Overall the sales of smartphones is slowing, but is still significant in areas ripe for new uptake in developing countries. As the line between operating system and browser continues to get fuzzy, lower processing power and cheaper materials seem likely to assist the new entrants.
Retail cost will be the deciding factor, even above technological competence. Licensing and royalty fees will also be a key factor. For example, Microsoft rakes in $20 per unit for each Windows phone plus royalties from Android device makers.
What Makes the Firefox Different?
Well, it’s a non-profit organisation that came out of Netscape after ‘the internet browser wars of the late 1990s’, and is now ‘a global community of people who believe that openness, innovation, and opportunity are key to the continued health of the Internet.’
It generates income from a Google contract to make them the default search engine on Firefox. They use community-based principles to create open-source software and to ‘develop new types of collaborative activities.’ They aim to speak to people whether or not they have a technical background.
They work to create a framework to enable to advance open-net principles, on the basis that the Internet is a global resource integral to modern life that must remain accessible. All sounds very high-minded, but it actually works.
Building consumer products (The Mozilla Corporation) is part and parcel of the Mozilla philosophy and profits are ploughed back into the organisation. Chief Executive Gary Kovacs said he was confident there’s room for a Firefox phone platform, being ‘an open web based alternative to the for-profit offerings of Google and Apple.’
If he’s right, it could revolutionise the smartphone marketplace and give encouragement to other social, not-for-profit enterprises dipping toes into the whirlpools of modern communication technology.