Mozilla backs away from commercial U.S. launch of Firefox OS

Mozilla does not have current plans to bring commercial Firefox OS smartphones to the U.S. market, according to a senior Mozilla executive.

Earlier this year, Mozilla said that Sprint (NYSE:S) would support Firefox OS sometime in 2014. However, Mitchell Baker, executive chair of the Mozilla Foundation, seemed to move away from that commitment.

"Currently, there are no plans to launch in the U.S.," Baker told CNET's editor-in-chief, Paul Sloan at the Open Mobile summit on Wednesday. She then clarified that Mozilla will have developer phones for the U.S. market.  

Following the on-stage conversation, Baker told CNET that there are no changes in Mozilla's plans from what former Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs had announced earlier this year, which included support for the U.S. market. Mozilla's vice president of mobile, Andreas Gal, told CNET in a statement that while Mozilla is "actively exploring" operator and manufacturer partnerships for the U.S. market, the ZTE Open on eBay remains its only U.S. offering so far.

Sprint was among a number of global carriers that have voiced support for Firefox OS phones. Sprint spokeswoman Jennifer Walsh told FierceWireless the carrier's position has always been that it supports Firefox OS development as a platform, but that it has not made any committment to launching Firefox OS devices.

In August, ZTE's Firefox-based Open smartphone has sold out in terms of sales to U.S. and U.K. consumers via eBay, but the sales volumes were relatively paltry and the platform faces challenges in gaining traction. The device went on sale in ZTE's eBay stores on Friday and by Monday it had sold out; the gadget went for $80 in the United States and £60 ($94) in the United Kingdom. However, fewer than 1,000 customers in each market were reportedly able to purchase the device, as only 990 were sold in the U.K. while 985 units were sold in the U.S market.

A focus away from the U.S. and on emerging markets would make sense for Mozilla, which has concentrated its Firefox OS efforts in those markets. One of the key features of Firefox OS is that it has drawn support from global operators. The operators that have pledged support for the platform include América Móvil, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Hutchison Whampoa's Three Group, KDDI, KT, MegaFon, Qtel, SingTel, Smart, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telenor, TMN and VimpelCom.

The Firefox OS relies entirely on the Web to enable HTML5 applications with complete access to core device APIs. According to Mozilla, developers can create Firefox OS apps from existing websites by adding an app manifest--a JSON file that describes the app, including its name, its icons and a human-readable description.

For more:
- see this CNET article

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Article updated Nov. 14 at 3:45 p.m. ET to add comment from Sprint.