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Mozilla's Firefox OS smartphones do matter -- to developers and buyers

Matt Hamblen | July 2, 2013
'Mozilla was never about taking over the market,' says CTO; Firefox OS should find success as low cost, Web-based alternative to iOS and Android.

Given Android and iOS together control 90% of the worldwide smartphone market, what chance does Mozilla have to find success with its new Firefox OS for smartphones?

Will Firefox OS even matter, given the struggles Windows Phone, BlackBerry and other operating systems are facing in their struggles to gain market share against Apple and Google?

Despite such questions from skeptics, the Firefox OS does matter, insists Mozilla CTO Brendan Eich.

In a press conference on Monday, Eich acknowledged the odds facing Firefox OS, but then laid out a strong argument for the platform.

Eich described keen interest shown by 8 million Web developers in the OS, and said that 20-plus smartphone makers and wireless carriers plan to offer new Firefox OS-based smartphones to first-time buyers globally, initially in markets where low-cost phones are in demand.

Telefonica will start selling the Firefox OS-based ZTE Open smartphone on Tuesday in Spain for $90 and a contract, and then in some Latin American countries. Meanwhile, Alcatel will offer the One Touch Fire soon while Deutsche Telekom plans to launch a Firefox OS smartphone in Poland.

Sales in the U.S will come later, though it isn't clear how much later. Eich did say that the Firefox OS will appear on smartphones in the U.S. "through various channels."

Sprint, considered a prime candidate to sell a Firefox OS device, refused to comment on its plans on Monday.

"We heard intense interest from lots of [carrier] partners for a device not tied to one of the two bigs," meaning Android or iOS, Eich said. "There's no reason why the Web couldn't be a first class platform for [running] mobile apps. We are not aiming at Fortress Apple and Fortress Google, but [can] convert a lot of the feature phone market. That would be excellent ... Mozilla was never about taking over the market."

Eich said there are 10 times as many Web developers globally -- about 8 million -- than there are iOS and Android developers combined. That large group creates automatic interest in building apps on HTML 5 for a Web-based phone, rather than a native, closed system like Android or iOS, he said.

But why would buyers care about Firefox OS?

"That's a good question," Eich said. "Users don't know or care about what's under the hood, but they want a brand they trust, a good price and something that satisfies them about apps like Facebook. That's a pretty short checklist, but we aspire to give them the open-endedness of the Web."

Eich and Chris Lee, director of the Firefox OS at Mozilla, said an adaptive application search tool from running on the Firefox OS can be used to combine prior knowledge of searches with a person's location (if allowed) to help judge a person's intent in a particular search, with local results appearing first. "What neat about it being a Web phone is that there are tons of apps on the Web," Lee said.


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