Published: February 25, 2013 2:22 PM
By Florence Legrand
Translated by: Catherine Barraclough
Around twenty mobile carriers and a handful of smartphone-makers last night came together to promote the Firefox OS open-source mobile operating system. Largely heading for low-cost entry-level handsets, Firefox OS is hoping to make waves in emerging markets.

Zte open

A whole host of mobile carriers took to the stage during Mozilla's pre-MWC press conference yesterday to show support for the firm's new open-source platform for mobile devices. Still, launching a new mobile OS will be no mean feat for the Firefox-maker. The mobile OS market is notoriously competitive and is currently dominated by Android (68.4% market share) and iOS (19.4%). It may therefore prove difficult for Firefox OS to make its mark. But this open-source platform is first and foremost due to equip entry-level handsets for emerging markets (Brazil, Mexico, Serbia, etc.), a bit like the freshly unveiled ZTE Open.

The ZTE Open has a 3.5" screen with 320 x 480 pixels and runs on a 600 MHz Qualcomm processor (all Firefox OS mobiles run on Qualcomm chips) and 512 MB of RAM. It has 256 MB of built-in memory that can be boosted via the MicroSD card slot, as well as a 3.2-Megapixel camera. On demo at the event, this phone didn't seem to be amazingly responsive and looked like the kind of smartphones that were being released a few years back. And, for the time being at least, there a no higher-spec Firefox OS phones on the horizon. On top of that, the interface doesn't look massively innovative, except for the contextual search function and the ability to develop applications with the standard web programming language HTML-5.


The Battle for Third Place


Firefox OS offers developers a new, interesting and open platform that's a far cry from the closed ecosystems of Apple and Google. Tthe central business model isn't based on a walled-garden approach (although it's not 100% clear what it is based on). To reach the largest possible number of customers, Mozilla will need to win over smartphone-makers and carriers (Alcatel, LG and Huawei have already signed up). However, the firm isn't alone in the entry-level handset sector—over the last few months the choice of budget Android and Windows Phone 8 handsets has been growing, and this trend is likely to continue throughout 2013.

As interesting as Mozilla's alternative may be, the market hasn't waited for Firefox and its OS to get to work on the low-cost smartphone. Still, the arrival of the new platform could help phone-makers reduce their dependence on Google (and Microsoft to a lesser extent). Unless, that is, some of the other new open-source operating systems (Ubuntu, Tizen) coming this year offer more attractive alternatives.

Mozilla is hoping to see its new OS take the coveted third position in the world of mobile operating systems, behind Android and iOS. It could also help bring a bit more balance to the market. But to do that, Firefox OS will be facing tough competition from hot third-place contenders BlackBerry and Windows Phone.
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