Firefox OS – Alternate to iOS and Android?

At the recent Mobile World Congress, Mozilla corporation launched Firefox OS. Now do we need another OS? Well, maybe…

As much as I like my iOS devices, I am always frustrated at the restrictions Apple imposes on me – the biggest and most painful being iTunes (which is why the Jailbreaks to the iOS devices are so popular). Now, technically, Android is open source but even Google has imposed some restrictions on its usage and deployment. And this is where Firefox OS comes in – the idea behind this OS is to free users/app developers from most restrictions. So for instance, for the same phone you could have multiple app market places. If you are a company like Bennett & Coleman, you could have a dedicated app store that displays/sells only your company’s apps. Currently, from a seller perspective, developers are completely dependent on the evaluators at iTunes or Android store since they control the channel or the route to the customer. I admit that there is value in this approach – after all there is a reason why iOS apps are more robust and bug free than Android apps – because Apple strictly controls the quality and build of the app while Android store (Google Play for instance) is a bit looser.

Firefox OS aims to take this a step further and allow virtually anyone to build an app store for phones that run Firefox OS. They are able to do this because Firefox OS is based on open source standards of HTML5, CSS and JavaScript.

As a recent Forbes article points out, this could have some interesting implications. Remember, when you accessed internet on your phone with a Vodafone connection? You were always first pointed out to the Vodafone mobile page which has the usual Movies, Tickets, Ringtones, etc listed. I remember at one point, I think around 2006 or so, mobile service providers were in a recruitment overdrive for their VAS (Value Added Services) divisions. Service providers were expecting a major chunk of their revenues to come from having people download ringtones, images, and so on. With some of the lowest ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) in the world in India, VAS was going to be where they made money.

However, things changed with the launch of iOS and Android, suddenly instead of them, the phone manufacturers started controlling content that people consumed from their mobile phones. Mobile service providers in India now make most of their money from voice calls and with some of the lowest call rates in the world – once again, their ARPUs are one of the lowest in the world. A Firefox OS might just be the answer to their prayers – a OS that allows them to build their own Phones with their App store bundled in it or even simply build their own app store with no restrictions. To begin with Firefox OS is going to be optimized for lower end phones and will start off with a launch in Brazil. A number of hardware manufacturers and service providers have announced their intentions to build phones with Firefox OS. India probably will come later since Android (Samsung and Nokia) is overwhelmingly dominant here.
2012 also saw launch of Sailfish OS by a company called Jolla (comprised mostly of ex-Nokia OS team) but I am assuming that’s pretty much dead in water – same concept, similar restrictions – just a different OS.

I think ‘Mobile’ is going to be a very interesting time in 2013!!

One Response

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