Monopoly or oligopoly in technology is bad, it divides the success only to a few players and only they get to benefit from the breakthroughs. The world can’t be full of BMW’s, Mercedes or Ferrari cars just like it can’t be full only with Apple, Google or Microsoft products. But in some cases, certain markets are divided only between a few notable players. Such is the case of mobile operating systems, where everybody knows who’s in charge: Android and iOS.

Firefox OS: Mozilla’s Brave Plan for an Open Web Mobile Experience

Even if Windows Phone will get traction and more people will start using it, it will still remain an oligopolistic field of technology. I’ve previously written about Tizen OS, a mobile backbone, based on Linux, that seems to be supported by Samsung. Tizen is something different, it doesn’t limit itself to handsets, it wants to go beyound that and power even netbooks or in-car devices, a true open-source operating system.


Global Smartphone Share

And it’s easy to understand why they’ve taken on that path. To be able to gain some market share when you have to fight with such giants as Apple, Google or Microsoft is not an easy task, so trying to get a name using other methods could be a solution. Mozilla’s Firefox OS wants to try its luck relying on HTML 5, the soon-to-be new face of the web. Looking at the graph below, we can see that the mobile OS market is “calming down” and not changing very much.

IDC data

Android seems to have reached its maturity, as well as iOS, while BlackBerry and other mobile OS are slowly climbing down. With a well-thought strategy and good marketing techniques, Firefox OS, as well as Tizen OS, have enough chances to see a growing number of users. We can’t really talk about a Firefox OS vs Android or iOS battle, because one realizes it’s almost impossible to achieve that. But what Mozilla and the likes of it can do is to gain a minor, but stable market share. Having 0 to 5% of the total amount of mobile devices is actually huge.

From Boot to Gecko to Firefox OS

Mozilla’s Firefox OS didn’t appear just now, it’s a work that’s been going on for one year, already. Firefox OS was previously known as Boot to Gecko (I always doubted they will keep that name), an open source mobile OS with the purpose to support HTML5 apps written by using “open web” technologies instead of platform-specific APIs. Mozilla was also present at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, this year, to demonstrate and propagate the idea that a mobile OS can entirely run on “open web”, showcasing its OS on a Samsung Galaxy SII.

Even from that moment, Mozilla let us know how they plan on gaining succes: by using the help of telecom companies. It would seem to be the right thing to do (at least in the beginning) – go straight to carriers, those that are interested in having an open source mobile OS that they could brand under their own name. Right now, the following carriers (some of them have  a large amount of subscribers) have announced their support for Mozilla’s Firefox OS:

  • Deutsche Telekom
  • Smart
  • Sprint
  • Etisalat
  • Telecom Italia
  • Telefónica
  • Telenor

Carriers Play an Important Role in Firefox OS’ Promotion

We understand that these guys are going to sell them, to bring the OS in front of the customers, but who are the makers? Right now, ZTE , one of the new and rising players in the mobile business, and TCL Communication Technology have announced their plans on making phones for Firefox OS. The starting target for Firefox OS will represent the emerging economies, those countries where you can’t afford easily an Apple product, and there’s enough room for competition. Now that the Firefox browser has lost the battle with Chrome, Mozilla wants to try its luck in the mobile field.

The first Firefox OS device is expected to hit the market sometime in 2013 in Brazil, under the Vivo brand. And don’t think this project doesn’t get anymore support! Mozilla boasts that its handsets will have Qualcomm’s Snapdragon inside, which is one of the most reputed processors in the mobile industy. But can Mozilla succeed with a mobile OS whose each and every application is based on HTML 5? As long as it looks beautiful, responsive, fast and appeals to the consumers, that won’t really matter to them.

Firefox OS is More Open Source Than Android

Unlike Android, the concept behind Firefox OS seems to be even more open source, as it will be the same for everybody, eliminating the need for individual optimization codes. Using acceleration hardware techniques (also found in the Firefox browser), Mozilla hopes that Firefox mobile OS will use less resources than its rivals, thus being more efficient even with less impressive specifications. So, when you hear that a phone or tablet has 1.3 Ghz or 1 GB of RAM, as yourself – what OS does it run and how “hungry” it is? Because some handsets with 256 MB might run as fast as others with 512 MB inside.

Thinking about the whole picture of mobile OS, one could say that Firefox OkS doesn’t stand a chance, especially since even Nokia said they have a plan B if the Windows Phone strategy fails. Could that be the reason why they didn’t yet kill Symbian or MeeGo and let such products as the N9, PureView “in the wild”, so that consumers wouldn’t forget about these OS? I don’t know how the mobile OS market will look like 5 years from now on, but my bet is that iOS will maintain its share and Android will see its position slowly climbing down. Windows Phone might have a chance against the 2 ruling OS, but they will never get beyound a certain point.

Do Small Mobile OS Stand a Chance?

Where does that leave players as the Tizen OS and Firefox OS? In a carefully chosen niche, I think. We don’t have yet a commercial product under the Firefox OS name, so we can’t really tell if the HTML 5 strategy makes it faster or not. But imagine the opportunities Firefox OS could bring to cheaper, low-entry smartphones. More and more people could have the chance of beautiful interaction at low prices. Is that a good strategy? I think yes. Surely, this project isn’t a guaranteed success, especially since Android already covers that market and because partnering only with carriers might be risky.

Firefox OS reminds us about the webOS, a mobile OS that should have been much more successful. WebOS was based on the WebKit rendering engine and Firefox OS is based on the Gecko layout engine. But unlike the WebKit engine, this one will be totally open source and running on HTML 5. Mozilla has done a great job, one that could have been done by Google themselves, but Google felt that Android is enough and there’s no need for another mobile OS, that could rely on the power of the web. Gary Kovacs, Mozilla’s CEO, seems proud about their achievement and rightfully so:

“The introduction of the open mobile OS continues the Mozilla mission to promote openness, innovation and opportunity on the Web for users and developers. As billions of users are expected to come online for the first time in the coming years, it is important to deliver a compelling smartphone experience that anyone can use. The large number of operators and manufacturers now supporting this effort will bring additional resources and diversity to our global offerings.”

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is the Managing Editor of Technically Personal. When he has some extra-time, he writes about Windows 8 apps and reviews them on Wind8Apps. Believes that technology is the main engine of civilization. Send him a tweet or make him your Facebook friend