SAN FRANCISCO: Mozilla, makers of the popular Firefox internet browser, is preparing to give a huge challenge to its rival companies Google and Apple’s on smartphone software by launching Firefox OS phones.
A new Firefox operating system for mobile devices is set for a July release after winning the backing of 13 wireless service providers around the globe, including Spain’s Telefonica, China Unicom and America Movil.
Because the Firefox OS is open-source and web-based, third-party developers will be free to sell mobile applications without needing to share revenue with Apple or Google.
“There’s a strategic imperative for the industry to have another OS that really is open and supports choice and competition,” said Mozilla’s senior vice president of products, Jay Sullivan.
The new software is based on open web standards and is capable of operating on devices with much lower hardware requirements than today’s existing crop of smartphones, according to Mozilla.
Mozilla will showcase some of the first hardware devices based on that software at the Mobile World Congress, taking place in Barcelona this week. Among the brands that have signed on to make devices based on Firefox OS are South Korea’s LG , China’s ZTE and Huawei.
Unlike Google and Apple’s operating systems, which are built from proprietary technology, Firefox OS uses the HTML5 standard that web services are built with. That means anyone familiar with web programming can create Firefox OS apps.
Whether a smartphone built on web standards can deliver the kind of performance that consumers expect remains to be seen. Facebook famously stopped using HTML5 to develop its iPhone app last year, with chief executive Mark Zuckerberg saying the technology couldn’t deliver acceptable quality and calling a decision to use HTML5 for its app one of Facebook’s “biggest mistakes.”
“The real barrier here is not necessarily a technical one, it’s scale,” said John Jackson, an analyst with research firm IDC. Mozilla will need to attract large numbers of consumers and app developers if it hopes to avoid the fate of previous mobile operating system hopefuls, such as Palm’s WebOS, now owned by Hewllet-Packard.
But “the world’s computing experiences are going mobile and when they get to the mobile environment, they’re happening on a platform that’s controlled by either Apple or Google,” said Jackson. “There’s a universe of content and service providers that have an interest in seeing a more neutral platform materialise.”
The first phones will be available this summer in Brazil, Columbia, Poland, Venezuela, Serbia and Spain. The first Firefox OS phones that Telefonica will offer this summer come with a wholesale price of $100. The price that consumers pay for the phone will vary in different markets and depend on whether the phone is offered on a prepaid basis or comes with a service contract, a Telefonica spokesman said.
Telefonica will eventually offer higher-end Firefox OS phones, and plans to offer Firefox OS devices in all 25 countries that it operates in by the end of 2014.
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