SAN FRANCISCO: Mozilla, makers of the popular Firefox internet browser, is preparing to challenge Google and Apple's grip on smartphone software.
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.
is betting there's room for a software developer-friendly mobile
platform alongside Apple's and Google's Android, which together power
the majority of mobile devices on the planet.
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.
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
"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
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.
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."
Mozilla, a non-profit organisation, also faces stiff competition.
Google's Android software, which the company distributes free to phone
vendors from Samsung to HTC, had roughly 70 percent share of the
worldwide smartphone market in the fourth quarter, according to industry
research firm Gartner. Apple, which created the smartphone market with
the 2007 launch of the now-iconic iPhone, had a roughly 21 percent share
of the market.
"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
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."
Mozilla will initially look to compete in so-called "emerging
economies" in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia, where many people
still use older phone models and have yet to upgrade to more expensive
smartphones that feature touchscreens and high-speed internet
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 devices in all 25 countries that it operates in by the
end of 2014.