How Firefox OS Could Sneak Into the Smartphone Chicken Coop
Spanish wireless network Telefónica recently started selling a super-cheap Linux-driven phone called the "ZTE Open". It's selling in Spain for the equivalent of around US$90, which includes about $40 worth of prepay.
Essentially, it's a $50 smartphone.
Aside from the bottom-end retail price, what's unique about this smartphone is that it's the first to use Firefox OS.
The HTML5 Difference
Like Android, the Firefox OS mobile operating system is based on Linux. A highly adaptable markup language called HTML5, however, is its biggest differentiating feature.
Without getting too technical, HTML5 can be highly suitable for use across screens and consequently across devices, partly because it has scalable vector graphics. It is also multimedia-friendly, handles cross-browser errors well and doesn't need plug-ins.
Herein, arguably, lies Firefox OS's potential killer advantage: It's a predominantly HTML5-developed ecosystem.
For anyone choosing to develop in HTML5, it becomes one-language-cheap-and-easy to simply shunt an app over to Firefox's marketplace -- even if Firefox OS is a minor player that wouldn't ordinarily get a look-in.
Equally important for Firefox Marketplace, the apps stay updated because it's easy -- the developer is already updating for other platforms anyway.
Open Web Apps
First, there's a conscious effort to sell the Open Web Apps mobile platform to developers as a freedom-loving concept: There's no vendor-controlled ecosystem like Apple's App Store involved, and Mozilla, Firefox's parent, is keen for developers to know that they can use their own website or other store to sell the apps.
Mozilla is also pitching its 450 million desktop users as a potential customer base. Remember, the technology is scalable across screen resolutions.
The Price Advantage
Could Firefox OS beat out Android?
Further clues may be in Spain -- possibly in Telefónica's offices. Spain is suffering economically, with unemployment reaching perilous heights. It's no coincidence that cut-price Firefox OS isn't going head-to-head with expensive Android devices in better-off economies instead.
Factor in cheap hardware with cheap-to-make and plentiful apps and a dodgy economy, and Mozilla may be on to something.