For the first time it what seems like a very long time, there is something truly new being shown off at MWC. A whole new platform. Sure, we've seen the rise of Windows Phone but, we all knew that was coming and it was hardly something "new". What Mozilla is trying to do with Firefox OS however, is a whole different thing. They're trying to juggle the building blocks that make a mobile platform and they're hoping that when they drop them, they fall into place as a complete platform. It's strange to think of something that is calling itself open to actually cosy up to the carriers but, this is just what Mozilla is doing. At this year's Mobile World Congress, they showed off some of their support and outlined some of their plans for the future. Let's take a look at what has become of Firefox at this year's MWC.
Alcatel One Touch Fire
It's a little strange to see Alcatel in these circles again but, the Chinese company behind the brand seems more than happy to play in the big leagues. Their offering running Firefox OS however, isn't too much to write home about – as with most Firefox OS hardware – but it makes for an interesting device nonetheless. With the characteristic Firefox orange and a small form, there isn't too much in the way of performance with this little guy. There's a 3.5-inch HVGA display, a 1 Ghz single-core CPU, 256MB of RAM, 512MB of storage and a 3.2 Megapixel camera. Certainly nothing too outlandish, if this thing retails for more than $100 it'd be a rip-off. For emerging countries and those on a budget who just need to keep connected and get online, it could be a whole lot worse.
The ZTE Ocean
What an imaginative name for a device deemed so open? Once again, this is the same sort of story as Alcatel's offering above with some pretty historic specs. There's a 3.5-inch 480 x 320 display here again, with a single-core CPU clocked at 600 – 800 Mhz, 256MB of RAM, 512MB of storage – which is expandable – and a 3.2 Megapixel camera to boot. ZTE's offering into the Firefox OS world is nothing spectacular either then, with aging specs that look like a featurephone to us these days. This appears to be the same story across all of Firefox OS and that's perhaps a bad thing in the eyes of press like us but, if these devices cost little and work well, they could sell far better than any one of us imagines.
A lot of us Android fans love to bash the carriers, and for good reason, they seem to be the route of all evil for us folk. Mozilla however, are partnering with carriers on a pretty large scale, indeed. With numerous difference operators pledging allegiance all around the globe. So far, they've announced that they have operator support in the following countries: Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Venezuela. They've got support to bring Alcatel's One Touch Fire to Movistar in Spain and Deutsch Telekom elsewhere in Europe. There are all either emerging markets, or markets in which there is a call for low-end smartphones. The kind of smartphones that you might think of as "starter phones". There's no denying that low-end hardware can be profitable, they're easier to market and should be easier to sell to a much larger audience.
When it comes to the U.S. however, the company had nothing to announce concerning this year and instead vaguely outlined plans to have the OS hit American shores some time in 2014.
Where it Might Succeed
Firefox OS is something of an anomaly in the mobile industry right now, platforms rarely bring much to the table themselves. You could say that Android is a little different as Google offers a good selection of apps and services themselves but, take stock Android for what it is and there's not that much built into the OS. There's not even a note app installed by default, for instance. This is fine though, for we can head to the Play Store for whatever we need or want, Mozilla has no such option, they're opening up to partners like MTV and Disney and they do have the Firefox Marketplace but, there's no real app-support. Mozilla faces a real uphill battle, no, a slow agonizing climb to the top where apps and content are concerned.
Instead, it is the web itself where Firefox OS might light a fire. After all, more and more of us open up that web browser on our smartphones and sit there for an hour or more at a time. A lot of us will use apps to get content from the internet but, thanks to the advent of HTML5 and much more sophisticated mobile web browsers, a lot of what we do with apps can be done through a browser tab.
Emerging markets are not only switching on to the web but, the mobile web is becoming almost as important as it is here. What better way for people to get online but with a cheap smartphone that is designed for the web? Besides that, emerging markets are seeing the greatest uptake in smartphone adoption compared to the rest of the world, and there are still a whole demographic out there ready and waiting to get access to the smartphone world. A Firefox OS phone might be the best way for them to do that.
It's not going to be easy for Mozilla's fresh platform to gain ground in the mobile world but, by offering a (super)low-cost option their sparks might just catch fire but, for now Firefox OS just looks like yet another platform the world didn't ask for and might not have room for. I can't say that I'm optimistic for the platform either, because I don't like to lie however, there is promise in a lightweight OS that has such a low-cost of entry.
How well do you think Mozilla can expect Firefox OS to do?