Can Mozilla's Firefox take the fight to Apple and Google?

News that a handful of telco heavyweights have pledged to support smartphones using Mozilla's Firefox OS has that familiar bitter-sweet taste of yet another attempt to swim against a decision that has already been made by the market. Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Smart, Sprint Nextel, Telecom Italia and Telenor announced they will support the platform, joining Telefónica, which was the first operator to officially sign on with Mozilla back in February.

The mobile operator community has a notably poor track record of playing catch-up after the stable doors have been trampled open by highly-focused (and wealthy) technology and content providers.

While recognising the laudable effort of this latest initiative, I fail to understand how it will not become yet another corpse that litters the highway of past grand ideas to reinvent a world that has already been conquered.

The providers of the Firefox OS handsets that have shown their hand are TCL and ZTE. Interesting vendors, but do they have the clout to hinder the iOS and Android juggernauts?

Of note, Telefónica Digital CEO Matthew Key--an early supporter of the Mozilla concept--said  "we don't underestimate the size of the task, there have been many new OSes started and most of them have failed."

However, he seems keen to push ahead with the plan, if only to provide an alternative to the growing array of smartphones relying on Android.

The aim is to launch a Firefox-based device before first quarter 2013 in Brazil at a cost below $100, Deutsche Telekom plans to offer Firefox based phones in European markets for €80 ($100). "We can produce the same experience on Android cheaper, or a better experience at the same price," Key claimed.

How this "experience" judgement can be made given the timetables involved is subjective, presuming Android development will not stagnate during this nine-month period. According to an In-Stat research forecast from February 2012, low-cost Android handsets will reach a penetration rate of 80 per cent of total smartphones in Africa, India and China by 2015.

Also, will Apple, Microsoft, Nokia and Samsung want to let Mozilla enter emerging markets that are already ultra-competitive? They each have plans, some less viable than others, to address the low-cost sector and I think a new player at this game will disappear without trace.

The ambitions of the operators involved in getting Firefox into the market are noble--but ultimately misguided. --Paul