After first announcing plans early this year for an HTML5-based mobile OS, Mozilla has now received sufficient industry support to launch Firefox OS. Guy Daniels reports.
With Symbian treading water, plans for a Linux OS constantly changing, RIM delaying BB10, and even Microsoft struggling to gain market share for Windows Phone, surely the last thing the market needs right now is a new mobile operating system? Well, apparently it does, at least according to a group of seven mobile operators.
Mozilla, the company behind the hugely popular and game-changing Firefox web browser, first announced plans for a mobile OS based on open HTML5 standards back in February (see our video interview below). Yesterday, it confirmed that its new OS would feature the Firefox brand and be built entirely to open web standards, where all of the device’s capabilities can be developed as HTML5 applications.
Mozilla says its open OS will enable the manufacture of entry-level smartphones – through platform optimisation and the removal of middleware – extending the reach of mobile internet devices to developing markets.
Speaking exclusively to TelecomTV last February, Jonathan Nightingale, Mozilla's senior director of Firefox engineering, said that the new smartphones could be up to 10 times cheaper than today’s models, but have at least their speed and capability thanks to the cloud. And during a filming session at Telefonica Digital’s new facilities in Barcelona a few weeks earlier, a Telefonica executive let slip that they were developing a ‘cloud phone’…
The Firefox OS for mobile devices is built on Mozilla’s ‘Boot to Gecko’ (B2G) project, which it says allows HTML5 applications to access the underlying capabilities of a phone that were previously only available to native applications.
Gary Kovacs, CEO of Mozilla, says the move into mobile OS continues Mozilla’s mission to promote openness on the Web for users and developers:
“As billions of users are expected to come online for the first time in the coming years, it is important to deliver a compelling smartphone experience that anyone can use. The large number of operators and manufacturers now supporting this effort will bring additional resources and diversity to our global offerings.”
The first smartphones designed for Firefox OS will be made by TCL Communication Technology (marketed under the budget Alcatel One Touch brand) and ZTE. Both manufacturers will use Qualcomm Snapdragon processors. Telefonica will be the first of the operators to launch the new device sometime in 2013, under its Vivo brand in Brazil. Apparently, these first phones will not come with a preinstalled email client, preferring to rely on SMS for messaging; instead, users will have to load a webmail service.
Telefonica Digital teamed up with Mozilla during this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February to announce its support for a new phone architecture where every phone feature – even calling and messaging – is an HTML5 application. As Matthew Key, head of Telefonica Digital explains:
“Firefox OS will bring a better smartphone experience to a higher proportion of the population at a lower cost. This is crucial for us to accelerate the adoption of smartphones in developing markets. The breadth of support for this initiative across the industry makes it clear that there is an opportunity in the market for a new, open mobile ecosystem.”
Joining Telefonica to support Firefox OS are mobile operators Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Smart, Sprint, Telecom Italia and Telenor. Thomas Kiessling, Chief Product and Innovation Officer at Deutsche Telekom said:
“We support Mozilla’s Firefox OS project since we really believe that it embodies openness, innovation, and competition, and it is part of a growing cloud and HTML5-based ecosystem. Our Innovation Laboratory’s Silicon Valley Center is working closely with Mozilla’s development team.”
Mozilla started work on its B2G project last year, with the aim of doing to the mobile OS what it did to the desktop browser – free it from proprietary technology. All partners say they are committed to ensuring the project is fully open and all web APIs will be W3C compliant.
In an interview with the Ars Technica website, Mozilla’s Christian Heilmann said that Firefox OS is not intended to compete with contemporary smartphone platforms such as Android and iOS. However, Android is already making inroads into the developing market, so like it or not, they are going to compete.
See Firefox Executive Insight at MWC below.
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