The world's first open ‘web app' devices are about to hit the shelves in Europe and beyond and both the company and its backers hope that they will help to break the status quo and to usher in a new smartphone age.
Unlike existing smartphones, which require a consumer to buy into an operating system and its ecosystem of apps, Firefox OS devices can run apps hosted directly on websites as well as from a dedicated apps store. It means that if a user requires a specific function or service, rather than having to trawl through a list of potential apps and download them on the device, he or she can run an "adaptive app search" which Mozilla claims will transform the phone to meet the owner's needs at that particular moment in time. What that means is that apps or app content can run on a device without having to download and install the application first.
That's because the phones are optimized for HTML5, the coding language of the web, meaning that most web pages are automatically optimized for a Firefox phone.
"The launch of Firefox OS marks an incredibly exciting time for the Web. Firefox OS powers the first smartphones built entirely on Web technologies and will stimulate an inspiring new wave of innovation for the Web," says Jay Sullivan, Mozilla Chief Operating Officer. "We are proud to deliver an experience for first time smartphone users that will delight them and really put the power of the Web in people's hands."
But as well as building web pages, apps can be created in HTML5 and when the phones officially roll out they will be able to access a host of apps via the Firefox Marketplace across games, news and media, music and audio and productivity. By choosing HTML5 rather than a proprietary language, Mozilla is making the phones as accessible as possible. Any developer can write an app in HTML5 without first having to pay developers fees to access software developers' kits (SDK) or APIs (which cost thousands of dollars), meaning that budding app developers from emerging and developed markets alike can compete on an even playing field.
As John Jackson, Research Vice President for IDC, explains: "Operators, OEMs, and developers are growing ever more interested in the emergence of a truly viable alternative mobile platform that offers them new economic opportunities independent of today's incumbents. Such a platform will have to meet challenging requirements in terms of robustness, scale, and openness. Mozilla and its partners are now moving definitively into the first wave of Firefox OS distribution. One of our recent surveys found Firefox OS to be more compelling to developers over Tizen, Blackberry and Kindle Fire, despite no commercial products being available yet. "
Apps already confirmed for the fledgling devices include EA Games titles, Facebook, Nokia Here, AccuWeather, SoundCloud and Twitter, plus a host of country and region-specific titles.
Mozilla and its partners believe that the phones will revolutionize the smartphone landscape. However, a quick glance at the latest Gartner figures, published in May, show that in the first quarter of 2013 of the 210 million devices sold globally, 156.1 million were Android and 38.3 million were iPhones, giving the two operating systems a combined 92.6 percent market share. BlackBerry and Windows Phone 8, who have been trying to break the two brands' hold for much longer, and with much larger R&D and marketing budgets, have a combined 5.9 percent global market share based on Q1's figures.
But the reason why Mozilla remains so upbeat about its phones is because it is targeting emerging smartphone markets where consumers are slowly moving from feature phones to smartphones but for whom reliable and easy-to-use handsets are of greater importance than being able to play Angry Birds or post their evening meal on Instagram.
And it is this focus on Central and Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America that has enabled Firefox OS to develop such huge momentum and attract 20 top tier partners, including network operators Deutsche Telekom and Telefonica and manufacturers including Sony, LG, ZTE and Alcatel.
José María Álvarez Palette, Chief Operating Officer of Telefónica said: "We believe that smartphones need to be more open and that the Web is the platform for making this possible. Consumers should not be locked to any one system but have the choice to consume the content they want and the flexibility to be able to take it with them when they change devices. This week marks a key turning point for the industry as we launch the first commercial Firefox OS devices in Spain. This is just the beginning as we bring Firefox OS to more and more of our markets across an expanding range of smartphones."
As well as launching in Spain, the first Firefox OS handsets will also be arriving in Poland this week and by the end of the year will be available in Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, Montenegro, Serbia and Venezuela.