Is the world ready for another mobile OS?
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?
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:
- 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.
- 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.
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: bit.ly/LgK1cX
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.
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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