Report: Mozilla's Firefox OS to shift focus from $25 smartphones toward more compelling features

Mozilla is shifting its focus with its Firefox OS away from ultra-low-cost smartphones and more toward working with partners to create smartphones with compelling features that may not be as cheap, according to a CNET report.

The report, citing an internal company email it obtained that was sent from Mozilla CEO Chris Beard, indicates that the company is going to focus on new software and services, moving beyond smartphones and even on working with partners to build flip phones and devices that people adopting their first smartphone may be more comfortable with. Firefox OS has been largely targeted at first-time smartphone buyers in emerging markets.

"We will build phones and connected devices that people want to buy because of the experience, not simply the price," Beard wrote in an email to members of the broader community of people involved in Mozilla's projects, according to CNET. "We have not seen sufficient traction for a $25 phone, and we will not pursue all parts of the program."

Mozilla representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mozilla unveiled that price point with great fanfare in February 2014 and pledged to work with Chinese chipset provider Spreadtrum to help drive down the costs of chipsets for smartphones and make the $25 price point a reality. However, as CNET notes, Orange sells Firefox OS phones for $40 in many African markets, and Japanese carrier KDDI offers the Fx0, which sports a quad-core processor and a higher-resolution screen, for around $410.

Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) said in March it will sell phones running the Firefox OS starting next year. However, other U.S. carriers have taken more of a wait-and-see approach to the platform, which is more popular in Africa, Latin America and Europe.

Mozilla has focused on web-based protocols and apps to populate its app store, but like other fledgling smartphone operating system communities, it is considering letting apps running Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android platform be a part of its app ecosystem.

"To bridge this app gap between user expectations and the readiness of the ecosystem, we will explore implementing Android app compatibility," Beard wrote. That effort will occur "within a framework that keeps our long-term focus on the Web," though, he wrote.

It's unclear how Android app compatibility would work or what kind of apps would be available.

Beard noted in his email that the Firefox web browser won converts by providing "compelling end-user value: it was clean, simple, fast, secure and open standards based and offered innovations (e.g. tabbed browsing, pop-up blocking, etc.) that advanced the power of the online experience while at the same time reducing some of its annoyance." Likewise, he wrote, for Firefox OS to win converts, "it needs to offer compelling advantages to users (i.e. the right combination of product features, desired apps, pricing, etc.) that will drive people to seek out our products, especially in the face of sophisticated competition from the most aggressive and largest technology companies in the world."

However, as Mozilla is learning, that is difficult to achieve in a market where Android and Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iOS command more than 96 percent market share.

As part of its "Ignite" initiative to shift the focus of Firefox OS, Beard wrote that the company will focus on the user experience and not just price; the company will not expand into new target market segments until it gets traction in existing ones; the company will focus on fostering a strong Firefox OS developer and user community; and Mozilla will ensure that all Firefox OS products "meet or exceed their expectations in terms of performance and reliability, at all price points."

Despite the shift in focus, Beard said Mozilla still has grand ambitions for Firefox OS. "We will seek out opportunities that align with our relentless pursuit of the Mozilla mission, our strategy of building great products and empowering people, and the impact we aim to have on the world," he wrote. "And we will say 'no' to opportunities, even if they make good business sense, if they do not further our mission."

For more:
- see this CNET article

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