Will Firefox Phones Ever Make It?

June 9, 2014 9:18 AM

firefox os
Just under two months ago Firefox OS released mock ups for their latest update, emerging an Android’s new cheap competitor. To this day analysts say the project is tough to evaluate. Mozilla’s Firefox OS is meant for the developing countries and people who still need an introduction to smart phones. Priced at a mere $25, the hardware it comes shipped on isn’t that great either. iOS and Android beat Firefox by a long shot in terms of both the exquisite hardware they come with. Web apps written in HTML5 and JavaScript replace native apps, although their performance still needs to be calibrated. In spite of these kinks, it is the audacity that Mozilla has in the smart phone ecosystem that captures one’s attention and admiration.

TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois recently reviewed ZTE’s latest Firefox phone, the Open C. The phone which comes unlocked, is priced at $99 and is sold in the US, UK, Russia, Germany and other European nations via eBay. Sales rreports show low or no interest in the product with ZTE reporting a dismal figure of only 450 handsets sold so far. Despite coming up with an attractive product for a largely marginalized economy, Lardinois could not help but wonder why the product was not reaching the projected sales figures. He reasoned that the slump in Firefox’s sales was because the competition was way ahead in the race. Why would anyone want to buy a $99 Firefox OS phone, when, with an extra $30 you could get an Android based Motorola E or Windows’ Nokia Lumia 520 for much less?

Speaking to Chris Lee, the director of Firefox OS Mozilla, Lardinois sought further clarification on the issue. Lee argued that Android had a challenge pursuing the lower end of the market. He reasoned that Firefox had the advantage, because the OS was built from the beginning for lower specs hardware. While the OS may also come up on Sony and Huawei, both hardware producers of high quality, it is smart in a few ways when compared to Android. he hoped to push the $25 phone into the market sometime later this year and expects no competition at that price. One hundred dollar phones not only come with better apps on Android, but last longer too and can out perform Firefox OS.

Lee says he will take a unique two-pronged approach on bridging the app gap. Efforts to bring tier-one apps like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube on Mozilla’s web app platform are under progress. The other approach sees Mozilla get hyper-local apps from countries like that support the OS. The development team at Firefox is also focusing on bringing more games to the platform. Most of the games will be WebGL based games written on Emscriptem and asm.js, after all Mozilla has done a lot of work on it, asm.js can be used to write advanced games but user may expect a performance lag on the web platform.

Frederic Lardinois and I support Mozilla’s mission, but Lardinois’ fears are too real to be ignored. Lardinois is worried about the viability of the Firefox OS and its future. The Open C, he says, is a nice phone. It felt solid, had a decent processor, a 4-inch screen with a 233ppi. The camera wasn’t anything worth writing about, it handled daylight shots just fine, but apparently everything else was a challenge.

Android is wising up to Mozilla’s mission and very soon may challenge the notion and actually move into the market Mozilla discovered. Something major needs to be done to make the $25 phone a modern miracle and very soon.