Mozilla announced on July 2 that its forthcoming standalone mobile operating system will be called Firefox OS. The software company describes the new system—named after its open-source web browser—as a “fully open mobile ecosystem” based on open web standards, using HTML5 for apps. This is in direct opposition to the so-called “walled-garden” approach of Apple’s iOS or Microsoft’s Windows Phone.
The first Firefox OS-powered SmartPhones will appear in early 2013 in the Brazilian market, launched by Spanish-based provider Telefónica under its Vivo brand. The devices, to be manufactured in partnership with TCL Communications Technology and ZTE, will use a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. Other mobile operators have expressed support for Firefox OS, including Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Telecom Italia, Telenor, and Sprint.
Mozilla stated that its operating system “unlocks many of the current limitations of web development on mobile, allowing HTML5 applications to access the underlying capabilities of a phone, previously only available to native applications.” The company expects this opening up of app development to take away “unnecessary middleware layers” and thereby make it possible to reduce the cost of devices and make advanced features available even in low-end SmartPhones. In addition to the apps, basic phone functions such as calling and messaging will be based on HTML5.
We believe that Mozilla’s entry into the SmartPhone market has the potential to meaningfully alter the status quo. In fact, Tarifica would not be surprised if the new operating system’s share of the mobile device market were eventually to approach Firefox’s 25% worldwide usage share of web browsers. Firefox OS, by virtue of its promised ability to lower device cost while providing a rich user experience, should be especially attractive to mobile operators in emerging markets. The fact that several major international providers immediately voiced support for Firefox OS bodes well for Mozilla in the early stages of the launch.
In terms of competition, if Firefox OS takes off, it is likely to have a bigger impact on Google than on Apple, given that Android advertises itself as an open-source OS (although that characterization is open to debate) and iOS is completely closed-source. However, it must be said that glowing predictions for Firefox OS are based on the assumption that a large library of desirable apps will be created to run on it; if not, Mozilla’s new venture will likely struggle to generate wide spread appeal.
In our opinion, operators in countries where Firefox has a large share of the web browser market would be well served to take notice, as Mozilla has strong favorability ratings among these users which could make them a sizable group of ripe targets for Firefox OS-powered SmartPhones.