Mozilla will unleash its new mobile platform Firefox OS shortly, with devices running the system going on sale in Venezuela, Poland, Portugal, Brazil, and Spain in June. There's been a lot of anticipation of the OS from the outset, as it could potentially change the way mobile is viewed in some markets. A few months ago, Mozilla’s Vice President Andreas Gal had explained on mobiForge what to expect from Firefox OS. So with the launch fast approaching, now seems like a good time to review the implications the new OS will have on the mobile world.
To recap, Firefox OS is not a proprietary platform. It's based on HTML5 and that means that it’s an open platform. The idea of the "open Web" is central to Firefox OS according to Andreas Gal. Mozilla’s intent, he says, is not to create an ecosystem for Mozilla but to use open Web standards to benefit the entire value chain, from end users to developers and those with a direct relationship with the customer, specifically carriers and OEMs.
This is an interesting development for emerging markets for which Firefox OS-based devices are primarily intended. With increased availability of low cost Android smartphones in emerging markets such as China and India, it's strategically interesting that Mozilla's main partner for Firefox OS is Spanish telecoms giant, Telefonica.
If that doesn’t resound with you, just consider that Telefonica has more than 200 million subscribers in Latin America and is very well connected with many carriers all over the world especially in China (China Unicom), the USA, as well closer to home in the European market.
Mozilla Chief Operating Officer Jason Sullivan emphasizes this aspect declaring that "there are still billions of people who are yet to come online, especially in emerging markets. We believe there is room for more choices and more options for them".
Handsets running Firefox OS will be sold for US$80 – 100 before any carrier subsidies or discounts are applied. So while most low end/low cost devices are based on Android now, that could easily change in large emerging markets where people don't want to pay to download apps, or share revenues when developing them.
And although the initial goal is to gain a foothold in emerging markets, that doesn't mean that, if well planned and executed, Firefox OS could not penetrate developed markets thanks to its openness and its ability to circumvent Google or Apple app stores.
Firefox OS is an even more open platform than Android which has to be linked to some of the Google products to work properly even if based on open source software.
It's no coincidence that a group of companies, including ZTE and Sony, have already announced plans to offer smartphones running Firefox OS and Foxconn has announced that they’re working on a Firefox OS tablet to meet expectations at every level.
Again, with a strategy based on emerging markets it's likely that Mozilla wants to grab the attention of HTML5 developers which, according to Andreas Gal, number "over 8 million compared to around 100,000 iOS developers and 400,000 Android developers".
The fact that developers can create mobile apps without big compatibility issues thanks to HTML5 potentially catalyzes mobile app development on Firefox OS from developers who have previously been focused on PCs. Furthermore, there are (or there will be in the near future) APIs for a lot of features which other browsers can use and integrate.
Firefox marketplace could even become a useful way to monetize apps: it could provide a location to bill for apps through carrier or OEM billing.
This may turn out to be a very smart move by Mozilla as it raises the competitive bar for native apps which up to now, have been closely controlled by the OEMs. It also increases competition at the device level. If things go as planned, many players may start looking at how to get a slice of this new segment of the market, thus helping the competition between brands.