Mozilla: why the web is the future of the smartphone

Firefox OS chief talks devs, apps, iOS, Android and more

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Firefox introduced Firefox OS last year and it now has networks and manufacturers on board. Head of Engineering, Jonathan Nightingale, says "if you aren't betting on HTML 5, you're making a mistake" and believes there's room for another OS alongside Android and iOS that can harness the power of the open web with ready-made apps that are already out there.

Crucially, Firefox OS runs on low powered devices for emerging markets and offers an intriguing entry point to a market dominated by premium smartphones. Could Firefox OS be the missing link in getting the entire world in to the smartphone market? We spoke to Nightingale to find out.

Firefox OS debuted last year - what's changed?

Last year we came to Mobile World Congress and made a big announcement and said 'hey, we're gonna get into the smartphone OS trade' but mostly what we were doing was talking about vision. We thought it could work and this was where we thought there was an opportunity. This year we get to prove it and come back with devices. We have 18 operators and real manufacturers now.

So you feel confident in Firefox OS going forwards?

The proof will be in whether we get these things to market and consumers actually enjoy using them and developers flock to it, that would be great but that's long term. If we have to read tea leaves, there's a lot of positive signs here.

Do you think there a need for a new mobile OS?

Yeah and I feel pretty good about the state of the Firefox brand - that brand is one of our biggest assets. Not just because it's a nice picture but because 20% to 30% of the worldwide market on desktops trust us, they use Firefox to get on to the web. We think they understand we're about user privacy, we care a lot about security. We're not in this to cash our users in, we're in this to build something that acts as their agent.

As for the state of the market, can we tolerate more competition that the duopoly we've got? I think we can but keep in mind that our goal here is to push hard. We're going to work with our partners to get this thing into market, we're going to watch very carefully, we're going to listen very carefully to what people respond to. It's not our goal to get to 100% market share - if we get to 10%, 20%, 50%%, we'll have big parties I promise.

Alcatel
The Alcatel OneTouch Fire

You feel confident because the online mobile market is big and growing?

Our CEO talks about how we're going to have 2 billion people joining the web for the first time and we've got about two billion on the web now, so the two billion coming in is going to look really different. A lot of people are asking whether Firefox OS is designed for the emerging market and whether that's our segment. Certainly, that's an important place for us to be. We're non-profit, we're mission driven so we look at it and think, if those people are coming online, they're not going to be doing it on a $700 smartphone. We have a real opportunity to introduce something there.

Our technology platform is something we've been building on and improving for a decade and we've got some performance characteristics and stuff that lets us run on much more accessible hardware, certainly compared to iPhone. The Alcatel One Touch Fire is actually more powerful than the ZTE smartphone too.

Low powered devices running the OS look pretty impressive…

We're really proud of the performance enhancements we've made to allow it to run on that class of hardware. When you interact with the current phones, you find little bugs and stuff because it's still early software and the engineer in me is always looking at those and thinking here's where we could make a little fix. These are pre-commercial devices but when I pick one up my overwhelming feeling is that the web can do this.