Mozilla Expands Firefox OS Phone Ecosystem With Partners' Help

The Firefox OS will power 17 smartphones, including a range of devices combining the form factor of more basic phones like flips, sliders and slates.

entry-level smartphone

Mozilla is expanding its ecosystem of Firefox OS-powered phones with the help of partners KDDI, LG U+, Telefonica and Verizon, which are all working to build new classes of entry-level smartphones. Firefox OS is now set to power 17 different smartphones that are delivered in 40 different markets around the world.

The effort to bring Firefox OS to market has not been an overnight success. Firefox OS was originally known as the Boot to Gecko (B2G) initiative that launched in February 2012 with the support of service providers Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom. In July 2012, Mozilla rebranded the effort as Firefox OS. In February 2013, Mozilla announced that 17 carriers around the world were committed to the Firefox OS effort.

Andreas Gal, CTO of Mozilla and also one of the founders of the original Boot to Gecko project, has been actively involved in moving the effort forward. While Firefox OS has been in the market for nearly two years, precise data on how many phones have been sold has not been publicly disclosed.

"As the operating system provider, we do not actually manufacture or sell the devices, and we don’t have any comprehensive sales information to share," Gal told eWEEK. "However, initial results have been promising enough for initial partners to continue to support Firefox OS and increase the number of markets where they will offer Firefox OS devices."

The new category of devices that Firefox OS will enable go beyond the form factors that have become common in the last several years for smartphone deployment. There isn't a branded name for the new category of devices at this time, he said, but added that the new devices will include a range of phones combining the form factor of more basic phones like flips, sliders and slates with the increased functionality and content that a smartphone provides.

Enabling the new form factors will not mean a new branch of Firefox OS.

"Firefox OS is an open operating system built entirely using HTML5 and other open Web standards, so the platform is free from rules and restrictions of existing proprietary platforms," Gal said. "As such, it is flexible and allows partners, including mobile providers, manufacturers and developers, to build additional services that meet the needs of their customers regionally and individually."

When Firefox OS got started, it enabled vendors to use the same hardware reference architectures that had already been developed for Android. Firefox OS, like Android, uses elements of Linux as the bare metal operating system.

Android currently doesn't support the new kinds of form-factors that Firefox OS and its partners are now pursuing, Gal said. In his view, the feature-phone user has been ignored for years with very limited functionality and content.

"It has always been technically possible to build phones with different form factors from standard Android components," Gal said. "Only the limitations of the Android agreements have held back these kinds of modern feature phone devices. Firefox OS has no such restrictions."

A key challenge in the Android ecosystem is in keeping the operating system up-to-date on user devices for both features and security fixes. It's a challenge that Mozilla is aiming to solve with Firefox OS.

"Firefox OS in the future aims to decrease the number of built-in apps that rely on OEM and operator updates and use Web-like offline cached updates that can provide a better user experience and more frequent code updates," Gal said.

New form factors aren't the only item on Mozilla's agenda to advance the state of Firefox OS in the highly competitive smartphone market. Mozilla's strategy this year is to continue momentum and expand the Firefox OS ecosystem, Gal said. To that end, Africa is definitely an important new market for Firefox OS smartphones, and Mozilla is excited to launch there with Orange, he added.

"Now, it's time to prepare the next phase of the platform," Gal said. "We want to realize the maximum potential that Web technologies offer in order to delight users through an unparalleled experience of independence and customization, enable innovative business models, and unlock the connected devices ecosystem."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.