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Fired up Mozilla stakes smartphone claim

25 Feb 13

The first commercial build of Mozilla’s HTML5-centric Firefox OS was given a rather spectacular debut in Barcelona ahead of Mobile World Congress 2013 this week.

Announcing 18 mobile operator partners, nine launch markets, and initial device commitments from Alcatel One Touch, LG, and ZTE, with Huawei to follow, phones running the system will appear this summer.

Powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipset, Firefox OS will hope to fight it's way to third place in the market, behind Apple's iOS and Google's Android. Yet faces stiff competition according to Ovum's principal analyst Tony Cripps.

“Firefox OS has achieved something that no device software platform has previously managed – translating an industry talking shop into a huge commitment from both carriers and hardware vendors at its commercial launch," Cripps says.

"Neither Android nor Symbian – the closest benchmarks in terms of broad industry sponsorship that we’ve previously seen – have rallied the level of support that Firefox OS has achieved so early in its development."

But while Cripps remains impressed by Firefox OS and it's growing industry presence, he remains coy around its chances of scuppering industry rivals Microsoft and BlackBerry.

“Firefox OS has looked like an underdog among the plethora of alternative software platforms currently vying to power the so-called “third ecosystem”," Cripps says.

"Windows Phone, BlackBerry 10, and Tizen all look like better bets on the surface.

"As such, the Mozilla Foundation and its early sponsors, especially Telefonica, deserve considerable credit."

Apple and Google currently dominate 91% of smartphone sales, but it seems Mozilla is not alone in its desire to topple the market's big two players.

Thirteen phone companies across the planet have raised hands in support of the move, hoping to produce inexpensive touchscreen smartphones, powered by Firefox.

“These issues must be overcome before Firefox OS devices find their way into consumers’ hands," says Cripps, who warns against the notion that cheap is popular.

"Even low-cost smartphones – the primary target market for Firefox OS – can’t afford to hide behind price as a justification for poor performance.

"This is especially true at a time when upgraded feature phones, such as Nokia’s Asha Touch and Samsung’s Rex ranges, are gradually eating into the low-end Android market.”

While tempting to think that the platform’s perceived neutrality has provided a clear motivation for such widespread support, does that mean Firefox OS is truly fit for purpose?

"The real acid test for Firefox OS and its long-term prospects is the quality of the software itself and the user and developer experiences that it fosters," Cripps says.

"However, it will be difficult to say whether it meets those needs sufficiently until we have seen retail devices.

"What is clear from the Firefox OS demonstration handsets that we have seen was that they are still some way from being market ready, being both slow and buggy."

Can Firefox OS challenge iOS and Android? Tell us your thoughts below

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