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July 2nd 2012 3:28 pm

Is the world ready for another mobile OS?

According to the latest numbers from ComScore, the smartphone OS market has basically become a two-horse race between Apple and Google. Over the last six months, Android's market share has gone up roughly a point, to 50.9% from 50.1%, while Apple's has gone up nearly two points, from 30.2% to 31.9%. RIM? Down 2 points, from 13.4% to 11.4%. Microsoft? Basically flat, at 4%. Symbian? 1.1%

With the market consolidating around the top two platforms, and with Microsoft about to launch a massive push to turn Windows Phone into more of a player, you'd think this would be a bad time for a company to introduce another new mobile OS.
But you'd be wrong, at least according to Mozilla. The group behind the Firefox browser announced today that it's cut some deals to produce the first smartphones powered by Firefox OS, the new name for the Boot to Gecko project that was announced last year. According to Mozilla:

Device manufacturers TCL Communication Technology (under the Alcatel One Touch brand) and ZTE today announced their intentions to manufacture the first devices to feature the new Firefox OS, using Snapdragon™ processors from Qualcomm Incorporated, the leader in smartphone platforms. The first Firefox OS powered devices are expected to launch commercially in Brazil in early 2013 through Telefónica’s commercial brand, Vivo.

The project, according to Mozilla, also has support from Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Smart, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefónica and Telenor. In theory, this could give the new OS some clout in the marketplace, since that group includes some big international brands, not to mention two of the major U.S. carriers. However, support from carriers and manufacturers hasn't been a major asset for Microsoft so far, and major manufacturers like Nokia, RIM and Motorola have struggled in the smartphone era.

Ultimately, it'll take more than industry support for Firefox OS to succeed. It'll take a willingness by consumers to try something new and unproven, and, perhaps even more importantly, it will take buy-in from app developers. If you can't play Angry Birds or upload your photos to Instagram, it won't matter how many manufacturers or telecom companies Mozilla signs up.

Despite the high odds against it, I hope Mozilla succeeds. Competition is almost always a good thing, and a good third (or fourth) mobile OS will force all of the other players to improve their products. I may never by a Firefox phone, but if Android adds new features to compete with Firefox, that works for me.

What do you think?



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14 replies

I think it's going to be bad. Not necessarily the OS itself, but I just do not have hopes that this platform will take off. Might be a WebOS. Now is a bad time. Microsoft could afford to push Windows Phone forward, but I Mozilla won't have that backing no matter how good an idea the platform actually may prove to be.
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I love this move by Mozilla. While it certainly seems like iOS and Android have cornered the market, I believe there is plenty of room for a new contender. It is important to keep in mind that iOS has only just turned 5 years old, and Android isn't even 4 yet. While these two operating systems have definitely evolved a lot in their short lives, I think people are starting to itch for something even newer. The rate at which smartphone users move to next gen devices baffles me, but I think it also demonstrates their desire to have the coolest, newest gadget around.

The UI for Android and iOS feels much the same today as it did two years ago, and while additions like Retina display and voice recognition make the experience empirically better, there has not been much done to make using these operating systems feel more fresh. This is my opinion on the subject, anyway.

I see two paths Mozilla can go down to make this mobile OS work:
  1. Find a way to make their OS look somehow flashier or newer than iOS and Android. Even if the specs are not necessarily better, consumers in this market seem to go for looks and accessibility more than numbers. And, let's be honest, the vast majority of smartphone users barely scratch the surface of their phones' capabilities.
  2. Partner with a company consumers will readily recognize. I'm specifically thinking about Facebook, but that might be a stretch. The Facebook iOS app has been notoriously troublesome. What if Mozilla could offer the "Firefox OS, the only mobile OS built for Facebook," or something like that? You could say the same for other companies like Zynga.
Anyway, I think this is the perfect time for this announcement, since WP8, iOS 6, and Jelly Bean announcements are causing people to once again reconsider which mobile OS they want. Now consumers will have yet another option to consider.
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According to Firefox evangelist, Christian Heilmann, Firefox OS is not intended to compete with Android or iOS. Mozilla appears to be looking to target the entry level smart phone market and developing countries.
I think this means they're going to compete more head to head with Android than iOS. But also it does not appear that they have any lofty notions of being an "iPhone killer". Also RIM/BlackBerry is much more prevalent outside of the US. And with the latest news out of RIM, it looks like Firefox could pick up some market share.

Ars article: http://bit.ly/LgK1cX
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Are they claiming to make it possible to transfer over from another OS? If so, there are probably plenty of folks running Android 2.3 or lower that would be happy to make the move.
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That shouldn't be too hard. Most of your stuff is in the cloud. The issue has always been app data, but you can back that up with a ton of free utilities. I've gone from 2.1 to 4.0 on a device without losing anything.
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It seems like a really bad time to enter the mobile OS space given the relative maturity of the top 3 at the moment. If Mozilla makes it easy for developers to port apps from other platforms and offers a compelling reason to do so or even to develop completely new apps for the platform, their OS would definitely be more attractive from an app ecosystem standpoint. Even so, it would take forever to catch up to the likes of Android and iOS. It is already evident that the lack of apps on Windows Phone is a deal breaker for most people; I can't imagine Mozilla would be able to reach that amount and quality of apps in any short period of time.

Beyond having the standard set of necessary apps, I think Mozilla also needs to have a "killer feature" to sell phones running their platform. And that can't just be a really good version of Firefox. All of the mobile phone OS's already have very good browsers and nowadays the focus is on the native apps.

That said, I hope Mozilla brings new innovation to the mobile OS space and lights a small fire under the other platforms. No matter how unlikely it is to succeed, there will always be something new and awesome brought to the table.
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I agree that this isn't an ideal time for a new company to enter the mobile OS, but I don't really agree that it needs a killer feature. Like Baileylo cited above, this isn't really for the high-end smartphone. Its more geared towards the first-time-smartphone-buyer. It's really just for people who want a device that's better than your average flip-phone, but isn't as advanced as a Galaxy S III.
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I think it's a good idea, if it can hold something over WP8 (cough cough available for all phones, not just new ones.) If it is better then Android 2.2 etc running on older devices, I think it's a great idea.
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Depends. The tablet market is still pretty open. That's why Android now has 40 percent of the global tablet market so fast. If they concentrated on Tablets, they could reach that 95 percent of the world (85 percent of Americans) that doesn't own a tablet yet. They'll have to be smart though and price it like the Nexus 7. Most of us (like, most of the world) can't afford 500 dollars for a toy. They can afford 199 though. Smartphone adoption is still at what, 25 percent? So If they came up with a great phone that's also cheap, there's still a lot of room there, but the glut of inexpensive high quality Android phones is why Android took that market. Really they'll be competing with Android as it takes over the world. Apple won't make something most people can afford, so they'll continue to lose marketshare in both tablet and phone.
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I think it's an interesting idea. We haven't seen a whole lot of the OS yet, but from what I understand it's mostly web/HTML5-based, and that's a really interesting idea. Especially since [most] of what we do is web based now (at least on phones). And for all we know, that's how all smartphones could be 5 years from now.

Also as you said Marc, competition is good for innovation. I'm a bit hesitant to be hopeful for this new Firefox OS, though, after seeing what happened to Palm when they tried to introduce a new OS player into the market. It all depends on Mozilla's execution I guess.

Good luck, Mozilla.
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Apparently someone has it running on a Nexus S. I have one in a drawer somewhere, so I'll probably try it out if it becomes available.
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I'm actually really excited for this. From what i've seen so far, the OS seems clean and minimalist (something which is what usually people look for in Phones these days). I really hope it succeeds, because it looks like it has a lot of potential.
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i would love this more and if it is something like the openmocko concept. Build the phone and install the os and still be able run apps in a vm without any problem.
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I very much like the idea, and the entry level target. Smart.
And I definitely want to try it.
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No thanks... I loved FF back in the day before Chrome and before FF became a bloated mess that it is now. Competition is good, but I think they are coming way late to the game now to really have a chance.
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