As Mozilla’s Firefox OS made its commercial debut at Mobile World Congress with device announcements and market launches, the company’s chairperson called for more meaningful innovation in the mobile ecosystem that delivers real consumer choice.
Kicking off the Mobile Live keynote session Tuesday evening at MWC, Mozilla chairperson Mitchell Baker defined “meaningful innovation” as having three key characteristics: a unified platform (namely, the web) rather than more separate software stacks; a level playing field that creates opportunities for more innovation and choice; and new models of collaboration that maximize value and make the first two characteristics possible.
Baker insisted that Firefox OS is “not a new third platform” that industry watchers having been looking for to challenge dominant players Apple and Google, in the sense that “the web is the platform”.
Baker criticized the current situation in which users are locked into ecosystems by the OS on their device.
“We’re at a point right now where your choice of device dictates other decisions for you. It determines how you pay for apps, and what apps and content you can access,” she said. “As a consumer, you don’t have a choice. It may be convenient, and it is one alternative, but it’s a disaster if it’s the only alternative.”
Baker called for open collaboration models similar to the manner in which Firefox OS was developed. “We built collaboration into Firefox so we could work with partners. Our code is open, our roadmaps are open, and you’re always welcome to take the code, go off and lead in a different direction.”
With Android and iOS currently dominating over 90% the mobile OS market, industry watchers have placed bets on which company can rise from the single digits to become the mobile industry’s third major ecosystem.
In addition to old hands like Microsoft’s Windows Phone and BlackBerry – which is currently hoping top regain its mojo with its new BB10 OS – other contenders have arisen, including Mozilla, Ubuntu (from South Africa-based Canonical), Tizen (which combines earlier work on OSs from MeeGo and The LiMo Foundation), and Sailfish (from Finnish start-up Jolla, which combines earlier work from MeeGo and Mer, and also makes its own devices for Sailfish).
There’s also (possibly) webOS, the mobile OS that HP bought from Palm and earlier this week sold to LG.
Of the new breed, Mozilla arguably made the biggest splash at MWC, announcing 18 mobile operator partners, nine launch markets, and initial device commitments from Alcatel One Touch, LG, and ZTE.
Tony Cripps, principal device analyst at Ovum, said it was an impressive debut for a company that, until now, looked like an underdog in the “third ecosystem” sweepstakes against more likely contenders like Windows Phone, BlackBerry 10, and Tizen.
“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 said in a research note. “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.”
However, he added, Firefox still has to prove itself in the retail market and deliver an equitable or better customer experience than the competition, and Firefox demo handsets so far have clearly been some way from being ready for prime time.
“Even low-cost smartphones – the primary target market for Firefox OS – can’t afford to hide behind price as a justification for poor performance,” he said.