Mozilla's Firefox OS unlikely to reach the U.S. market until 2014

BARCELONA, Spain--Mozilla formally launched its Firefox OS here ahead of the start of Mobile World Congress. However, the smartphone platform is focusing its attention on emerging markets and will likely not launch in the U.S. market until 2014.

Mozilla, best known for its Firefox browser, said the first Firefox OS devices will be available to consumers in Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Venezuela, and that additional markets will be announced soon. The platform seems clearly aimed at emerging markets, and Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs said the platform likely will not hit the U.S. market until 2014.

Mozilla said 17 operators have so far committed to launching Firefox OS devices, including Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), 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. Telstra indicated it is open to the initiative. Further, Mozilla said that TCL's Alcatel brand, LG Electronics and ZTE will build the first Firefox OS devices, with Huawei to follow later this year. More handset makers will likely be added in the future.  All of the devices will run on Qualcomm's (NASDAQ:QCOM) Snapdragon processors.

Kovacs said that Mozilla wants to give consumers more operating system choices than what currently exists,  "That's a broken model and it needs to change," he said.

Kovacs stressed how deeply invovled operator partners were in developing Firefox OS and it appears operators will have more control over how consumers will consume apps and interact with the carriers than the existing platforms. "I think it's crucial to work together very closely," Deutsche Telekom CEO Rene Obermann said. "If that works I think it will be to the benefit of everyone. It's about creating another successful ecosystem, which, if we don't do it collectively, it's not going to work."

The first wave of Firefox devices will come from América Móvil, Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica and Telenor, with more devices launching around mid-year. Sprint did not indicate when it will launch Firefox OS devices.

Mozilla said the platform includes standard phone features like  messaging, email and camera as well as built-in cost controls, social features with Facebook and Twitter, location-based services and  the Firefox Web browser. In addition, it will let consumers discover one-time use and downloadable apps, Firefox Marketplace and other features. Users can enter any search term and instantly create a one-time use or downloadable app. Firefox OS also offers a deep contextual search that will let users search both within apps and on the Web at the same time.

The platform will launch with Firefox Marketplace, which will offer apps in categories like games, news and media, business and productivity. At launch Firefox Marketplace will include popular apps such as AccuWeather, Airbnb, Box, Cut the Rope, Disney Mobile Games, EA games, Facebook, Nokia's (NYSE:NOK) HERE, MTV Brasil, Pulse News, SoundCloud, SporTV, Terra, Time Out and Twitter as well as personally-tailored and local apps that are relevant to users in their respective regions. The Marketplace will also enable direct operator billing and developers will be able to deliver apps directly to consumers as well. Firefox Marketplace can be previewed on Firefox for Android  and will be offered with the first Firefox OS phones to launch later this year.

Mozilla's Firefox OS is just one of many fledgling open source platforms that are vying for attention from carriers, developers and consumers. Firefox is going up against smaller platforms Tizen and Ubuntu, as well as more established players like Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS, Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android, Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone and BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) 10. Microsoft and BlackBerry are trying to establish themselves as the clear No. 3 in smartphones after Google and Apple but both face uphill struggles of their own, putting into stark contrast the kind of effort Mozilla will need to gain traction.

Ovum analyst Tony Cripps, said the "real acid test for Firefox OS and its long-term prospects is the quality of the software itself and the user and developer experiences that it fosters. However, it will be difficult to say whether it meets those needs sufficiently until we have seen retail devices. What is clear from the Firefox OS demonstration handsets that we have seen was that they are still some way from being market ready, being both slow and buggy."

"These issues must be overcome before Firefox OS devices find their way into consumers' hands. 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 added. "This is especially true at a time when upgraded feature phones, such as Nokia's Asha Touch and Samsung's Rex ranges, are gradually eating into the low-end Android market."

For more:
- see this Mozilla release
- see this separate Mozilla release
- see this The Verge article
- see this Engadget article

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