Mobile World Congress continues to throw up head-turning tech and developments in the world of gadgets, one of the most surprising so far may just be Mozilla’s announcement to enter the mobile OS market with their Firefox OS.
Currently dominated by Android and Apple, with the likes of Windows and Blackberry trying to catch up with the forerunners, Mozilla will be joining a crowded market late but they have been turning heads at MWC.
The main reason they’ve gained so much attention is because their OS hopes to pander to what seem to be the tech buzzwords at the moment, these are of course emerging markets.
Developers and tech companies have long seen potential to flog their kit to emerging economies and now is a perfect time with personal wealth in developing countries starting to reach the sort of levels that could support budget tech.
Firefox OS hopes to target these new users as they hope that their unique target audience gives them a strong foothold to build upon, as Mozilla apparently see a gap in the market in this regard.
Highlighting their desire to target emerging economies Mozilla announced that the first wave of devices will be available in Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Venezuela.
Mozilla have also revealed that they are working with Alcatel (TCL), Huawei, LG and ZTE to design and build the first Firefox OS devices, all of which will feature Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon chipsets.
The new Firefox OS will be a free and open source project and has a few unique features that will set it apart from other operating systems.
Senior Vice President of Products at Mozilla Jay Sullivan told the audience at the Mozilla Press Conference at MWC is that Firefox OS attempts to tear down the wall between web and apps, whilst making users think differently about what apps are.
One of the features that really stood out was ‘one use apps’ which presents a fresh take on apps. This feature allows you to use an app without actually downloading it.
To put this in context Mr Sullivan searched for ‘Skyfall’ within his phone and a whole list of apps came up, many of which he didn’t actually have installed, he was able to click on IMDB and access that apps content on Skyfall instantly, without the app actually being on his phone.
This feature can extend to almost anything, another example shown was games, the search term was simply ‘games’ and a long list came up, the VP was then able to pick one, give it a quick play then exit the app. If a user decides they want to keep what they’ve found they can download directly from this experience.
Another aspect of the Firefox OS that’s quite interesting is the entire make-up of the system, it’s not an entirely new ecosystem, it is made up entirely of web content and puts HTML5 at its core.
The result of this is a broad app store, Mozilla seem keen to strip down restrictions between users and developers and even hinted that their own marketplace wouldn’t be the only one available on Firefox OS.
Basically the app store is built from the web and webpages. Mr Sullivan revealed that many apps will be content that is already out there simply repackaged to fit onto the phone, as he claims many developers may be building content for Firefox OS without actually realising it yet.
This will certainly boost the amount of content available of devices that run Firefox OS and the quality and quantity on new platforms is normally the issue for new operating systems, if Mozilla have bypassed this awkward stage by making the entirety of the web available they may be onto a winner.
Mozilla claim that this integration of web apps to mobile devices will allow users to ‘enter any search term and instantly create a one-time use or downloadable app.’ I’m not sure how realistic this is, but one touch app creation from the web would be a revolutionary step for the market.
Other interesting features include a level of customisation that is unrivalled on some of the other operating systems, this again comes from the simple concept of Firefox OS being directly linked to the web.
There are a number of features that are to be expected of a modern mobile OS such as full integration to social networking platforms, as well as an extensive internal maps program.
HTML5 may be a web heavy component but Firefox OS will utilise it’s offline abilities as well, as the ability to store data offline through HTML5 was demoed at MWC, so even when in airplane mode many core online apps will still be accessible.
Mozilla may be aiming for emerging markets to begin with but they seem to have a clear growth plan for their mobile OS, as they will look to gain a foothold in the market by providing many people with their first mobile experience and then build on this in more established markets.
As part of this integration to other markets in the future Vice President of Mobile Engineering at Mozilla revealed that tablets could be the next step for their software.
It remains to be seen whether Western Europe will see devices running Firefox OS in the near future, it probably all depends on reaction from countries in the first wave named above, but Firefox OS looks like a fresh approach to mobile software and it’s rich interface looked appealing, as did the way it bridged the gap be tween apps and the web.
If you want an early taste of the OS you can gain access to Firefox Marketplace on Firefox for Android Aurora.