Mozilla enters the smartphone wars with Firefox OS, takes on Windows Phone and Android

For the last few years, Mozilla, makers of the king of indie browsers Firefox, have been working on a new mobile OS called Boot2Gekko. The OS was built around HTML5 and CSS coding tools and it tended to look very much like Android and iOS—that is it was a collection of icons laid out in a grid with some notifications.

Today, in a somewhat surprising move they announced the re-naming of the OS to Firefox OS and they intend to put it on phones next year. In a press release, the company noted that it had deals with TCL Communication Technology (Alcatel) and ZTE to make the hardware for new devices with carrier partners Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Smart, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefónica and Telenor are all backing the initiative.

What caught our eye though was Sprint. The company who has the HTC Arrive, who claimed sales are miserable and were “thinking about” Windows Phone 8 but who were the only major US carrier to not publicly endorse it after the recent Summit.  This is the same company now throwing their hat in with Firefox OS which no one has even seen yet let alone knows what’s unique about it. Yet they can’t sign on with Microsoft and their one-two punch of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8? Yeesh

In fairness, Firefox OS looks to be aiming for low cost handsets, the same market that Windows Phone Tango wants to grab but can't. Even Android evidently can't go as low as Firefox OS though OEMs are certainly trying (don't forget, Android licensees have to pay Microsoft to use Android). Both Google and Microsoft have publicly commented about the "$99" smartphone--referring to the cost to manufacture, not sell. Just today Microsoft reiterated the flexibility of WP8 and its ability scale up as well as down for low-cost hardware.

Early screenshots of Firefox OS

Although we have a soft-spot for the Mozilla Foundation and we think they have made the internet world a better place, we can’t help but wonder if this will go anywhere. Microsoft, with all of their money, large ecosystem, media tie-ins and strong partnership with Nokia are barely making waves. Most people have already written off RIM with Blackberry 10 and that’s a company with an established track record and valuable IP—what chance does Mozilla have with Firefox OS?

So 2013 will be an interesting year of the giants, Android and iOS with the juggernaut-in-waiting Microsoft dominating the smartphone market, while Blackberry 10, Firefox OS and Bada all fight for fourth place.

We’ll let the free market decide this one but we know where to place our bets. As for Sprint, if they don’t say something soon about Windows Phone 8 or we don’t start to hear rumblings of new WP8 devices, we seriously suggest you ditch them and look at T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T or US Cellular for your next-gen handset.

Does Mozilla have a chance for the prepaid/pay-as-you-go market or will Android and Windows Phone get there first? Should Microsoft be worried? Let us know in comments.

Source: Mozilla

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been here covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics and ran the projectors at movie theaters, which has done absolutely nothing for his career.

  • OperaOS next?!
  • Not so bad...
  • This is a great tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere. Simple but very precise information… Thank you for sharing this one. computer tech support   
  • Don't think it will catch on, its all about Android and iOS, people are too closed up to try new things.
  • What wheres Windows Phone?
  • People just aren't interested in Windows Phone - yet...
  • They will be with pureview and three screen tech
  • Let me tell you something. People are. I showed my CFO first reaction to my Lumia 900 "Why aren't we on Rogers?" My company uses Bell.
  • At work they want, and will get, the iPhones so I paid $600 out of my own pocket to get an AT&T Titan, unlocked it and brought to a meeting once and showed it off, more than half of the lawyers said they want whatever I have after I gave them a quick walkthrough. It's all about educating the end users in the corporate world. Sure lots of them are drunk of the apple juice but when we work with MS as our main operating syatem, nothing beats the Exchange integration like the Windows Phone did. Only thing I wish is that it was a bit more secure for the corporate law world. Can't wait for Windows Phone 8 as it will be much more secure and better integrated with the surface tablets which i again plan to educate them with. The future is looking like it will be a lot of fun in he office.
  • +1 alot of my corporate guys still say iPhones and Androids are just tooks. Windows Phone is the real deal
  • because rogers SUCKS . lol,   I work for bell and have my WP with Rogers.... and Rogers screws me  over on a month to month , and the reception sucks. lol
    hopefuly  BELL  will get WP8,   specially now with the NEW CEO .
    the old one told MS to go F them selfs  ( he was a MS canada CEO before bell and hates them)
  • so, if u get any tips on new wp8 devices heading to bell we'll be expecting u to spill the beans :P
  • Didn't they also say Xbox wouldn't catch on. And what's the number one selling console? There used to be Playstation, Sega, and Nintendo. Now we have PlayStation, Nintendo, Xbox. So don't think. Just because you start late that means you're out of the game. Soon it will be iPhone, android and, windows. Forget about blackberry(RIM).. I don't see them gaining anything again..
  • I don't think they are planing on competing with Android & iOS like wp. I think there goal is to sell cheap touch screen phones to people that want touch screen & don't know anything about operating systems.
  • Mah low-end pay as you go sure. High end hell NO
  • LMFAO... Are they for real? Look... WP's OS is the cream of the crop and they are still fighting tooth and nail to make a dent in Android and iPhone market share. Mozilla is a joke. Don't even bother.
  • They are saying the same thing when google introduced android a few years back. Never count out challengers until the dust fully settled.
    I am really enjoying reading your well written articles. I think you spend numerous effort and time updating your blog. I have bookmarked it and I am taking a look ahead to reading new articles. Please keep up the good articles! Must be 18
  • Demo here (Firefox only)
  • I like Sprint, wife & I both have the HTC Arrive and Love 'em, I have 5 phones on our plan. If Sprint doesn't come out with a decent Windows 8 Phone I'm taking my account with 5 phones elsewhere. Sprint has been pretty damn screwed up in the Windows Phone Selection, I don't want Android and I hate anything to do with Apple.
  • I'm in the same boat. Switched carriers to Sprint because Verizon didn't have a Windows Phone at the time. Willing to do it again. Disheartening that Sprint did absolutely no promotion for the Arrive when it was an active model and gave no discounts at their stores. It's quietly the best of the first generation of WinPhones.
  • Its still an active model on the floor. Its hasn't even been scheduled for end of life yet.
  • I'm with you, I can't stand apple and don't want android.
    My company pays for my phone, I'm happy with my arrive.
    But I hope Sprint wakes up and has a few good Windows 8 phones.
    Having a sim card is going to be great.
  • +1
  • I had sprint in high school and it was terrible but I was young and didn't know anything about cellular service. Went to metropcs, which is a lot better than it first was, but now on tmobile and love wp7. Just wish they would have gotten the lumia 900 as well.
  • Replace IE on wp7...cuz it sucks
  • You suck IE is faster and more secure than any other browser including google, google chrome, and firefox
  • Firefox was way too cartoony for my tastes. It was like a stripped down attempt. Chrome has a couple nice features, but as far a full featured cream of the crop browsers IE just rocks.
  • IE9 is really good, IE10 looks to be great for Windows Phone. I'm using Chrome on Jelly Bean 4.1 and it has some neat features but it's not "OMG, best browser ever!" just yet. Scrolling is still a bitch on Android (gaps in graphics).
  • OMG, Daniel you converted to Android? :-P
  • Tablet or phone, Daniel? 
    Chrome is kinda nice, aint it? 
  • Whoa whoa...I did not convert. I'm lucky to be in a position where I can evaluate Android for comparative purposes, that is all, lol. I have 14 Windows Phones and now 2 Androids. We know who's winning with me.
  • they really need to add better css support.  especially for fixed divs.  so many mobile sites use fixed divs for top and/or bottom bars and they don't render correctly on mobile ie9.  it's a pretty big issue for me.
  • Wrong. IE on any laptop/desktop has done nothing but crash every few minutes since vista launched. Even the newest version 9 on my wife's laptop caused enough frustration that she had me put Firefox on it. In 5 years, i have had maybe 4 instances where FF lagged out and had to restart itself.
  • Sounds like user error.
  • What you saying seems very suspect. I run an organization with 300 PC and laptops and have had IE problems with 2. I also had a few people who used Firefox and they had issues with it displaying or accessing particular web pages
  • I've had no complaints with IE9 mobile. And I've used the browsers on all the major phone platforms.
  • I have been using Firefox since day one. But recent upgrades are garbage. On one of my computer, I had the most up to date flash installed and it kept telling me I'm missing the plugin. Not only that it also keep crashing or freezing on 3 separate computers.
  • IE is currently the best, fastest most secure mobile browser available...
  • It doesn't suck that much...
  • IE9 rocks on WP 7.5 I don't use Iphone but I can tell you its way better then Google's browser on ICS anyway. I'll let you know my thoughts on jellybean when my Nexus S gets updated this month. I hate using the android browser its like a pain to use compared to Windows Phone. I just wish Windows Phone had options for font size on the browser.
  • IE9 on mobile is practically useless without "forward" and "find".
  • Agreed, IE9 is a half @$$ attempt at a browser, with so much competition they should do better. Hopefully IE10 will be that... But in my book Opera has the best mobile browser on any OS including desktop as well. Only WP7.x is missing out, but I'm confident a WP8 version will be simple for them to make with the native coding coming out for it.
  • I think they will flop, especially since they're stealing Android and Apple is features.....Don't worry, if apple can stop the sell of the Galaxy tab 10.1, I'm sure they will file an injunction of some kind.
  • Why? They're no threat to Apple whatsoever. And besides, Mozilla is aiming for the low-end, not the high-end.
  • Because Apple wants to rule the world in the mobile space. Do you think the Galaxy tab 10.1 was giving the iPad a run for its money? No, yet Apple filed an injunction against them and won. And Apple is now pursuing the low end market....why do you think they're now offering the iPhone on pre-paid????
  • Just another droid clone.
  • What's next? The Netscape Communicator OS?
  • lol
  • LMAO!
  • I hope so.
  • I love my Arrive hardware, but Sprint can go fuhg themselves. Zero user support and zero platform support. Good luck breaking even on that $15billion iPhone play dumb-arses.
  • I think it was $20 billion.
  • That commitment takes sprint through the iPhone 5s. Also have fun taking your iPhone to an apple store with att and Verizon. With sprint you can do in store exchanges without being forced to wait weeks for apple to mail you a phone or driving hundreds of miles to an apple store. Some morons just don't know the specifics of the deal between apple and sprint. Sprint is the only carrier who apple allows to do apple care exchanges.
  • Another phone influenced by the iPhone's app layout, there is already Android
  • I'm fond of Mozilla and, as a consumer, I'm always open to new competition. . . But . . . they're going to have a harder time than Microsoft and Nokia in gaining traction. I wonder what those people who said Windows Phone was too little, too late will say about this? As for Sprint... all I can say is that I'm glad we don't have carriers in the UK who're managed by fanboys. That being said, if O2 don't buck up their ideas, I'll be moving on....
  • Total waste of their time & money. Whose going to pay for a data plan for that, when you can get real smartphones for free or cheap. Is this a joke?
  • No, if it's this easy to get into smartphone wars, why don't we all just make our own OS by borrowing code and features from others
  • Oh my Gawd, who are they kidding? I was barely opening the demo ( and right away I found a stolen behavior from WP7—the lockscreen.
    C'mon Mozilla! You can do better than that, or can't you?
  • It works best on Firefox Nightly builds.
  • I think it is a strange time to come in, but ok. More competition the better. The only thing that urkes me is sprint. F u sprint., f u... My contact is up when win 8 comes out, and i have already decided i am done with the d-bags.
  • I really do love Mozilla. They have the best, most fully featured browser for the desktop - bar none. Nothing can even come close to the customizations and capabilities.
    But I don't see them succeeding in the MobileOS space. This "web-technology as apps" thing was already done and tried to death (literally) by WebOS. Which was such a colossal flop that Palm was bought out by HP and they then cancelled the whole hardware line just 2 months after the release of the TouchPad.
    I'm really hoping that with the introducing of Native support in WP8 that I can finally use the mobile Fennec browser - because that would be fantastic to sync everything across all of my devices. But I haven't heard anything saying that it would be possible, I i'm just going to resign my hope.
  • Many would tell you that WebOS was a good OS with many excellent features. Some that WP still need working on. However, it faced a very similar challenge to WP. Low hardware specs that ppl just couldn't get around, trying to edge their way into the android/ios world, etc. HP though just wasn't willing to do what MS is. Stick with it. HP's phone division believed it would take a solid 3 years before beginning to catch on and make a dent. Something MS plans on doing.
  • WebOS had an excellent UI and a lot of poorly executed ideas. If you want to see the kind of performance and fluid UI of what WebOS should have been, look at the Playbook OS.
    I say nothing about it's utter failure. But if you want to see "WebOS done right" from a technical and performance perspective - it's Playbook OS. I owned a firesale TouchPad. It ran on (at the time) some quite high-end hardware. Yet you couldn't watch ANY videos above 480p and even that would lag to hell. WebOS was actually going to be my choice in phone OS before HP shitcanned it and I decided on a Windows Phone device.
    But it was still a failure for many reasons. The biggest of which is the sheer limitation of being forced to design applications around "web technologies" and nothing else. That's why Palm was forced to release a PDK that gave native development capabilities.
  • Surely, it'll be the second best mobile OS after windows phone
  • True. But wp8 is just too good for Mozilla to compete
  • On a different subject but Firefox Browser has now been ported to Windows Phone 7 (for those interested)... Homebrew though... Works good.
  • Sweet, heading to XDA now :)