With Android and Apple the dominant mobile platforms, the battle is on for third or fourth place. Last weekend, Mozilla launched its entry -- the Firefox operating system -- and there are a variety of indications that the platform has significant potential, especially in emerging markets.
The previously announced platform will be released on handsets made by LG, ZTE, Alcatel One Touch, Huawei and Sony, all powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset. On Monday, ZTE showed the first Firefox-based handset, the 3.5-inch ZTE Open for developing markets.
So far, smartphones have not penetrated deeply into developing markets, and the Firefox OS is targeting those countries. A ZTE representative was asked if the Open would sell for less than $200, and he replied that the price point would be much lower, even before carrier subsidies.
While the Open is not getting strong reviews for the quality of its screen resolution, the OS is reportedly very responsive. Expectations are that such manufacturers as Sony, which expects to launch its Firefox OS models next year, will offer higher quality handsets. Other manufacturers have said they expect to release Firefox models by this summer.
Eighteen carriers this week have announced their support of Firefox OS, including Sprint, Etisalat in Africa and the Middle East, Deutsche Telekom, China Unicorn, and Telefonica. Mozilla said devices from these carriers would initially be targeted at users in Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Venezuela.
In addition to targeting emerging markets, Firefox's angle is that, instead of native apps written for a specific platform, the platform is designed for Web apps written in HTML5 that is already used on the Web. And, instead of requiring all apps for its platform be distributed through its own store, as Apple does, Mozilla will allow developers to distribute their apps through their Web sites or other app stores, in addition to a Firefox OS store.
'All the Things'
In a posting Sunday on the Mozilla blog, the organization said that Firefox OS includes "all the things people need from a smartphone out of the box -- calls, messaging, e-mail, camera and more," in addition to built-in cost controls, social connections to Facebook and Twitter, location-based services, "a new ability to discover one-time user and downloadable apps," and, of course, the Firefox browser.
The posting also said that the Firefox OS provides "far more sophisticated and deeper search capabilities" than are normally available. A user can also enter a search term and immediately create a one-time use or downloadable app for that specific purpose.
The Firefox Marketplace is expected to include a variety of popular apps in HTML5, including AccuWeather, Disney Mobile Games, EA Games, Facebook, SoundCloud, Twitter and others. Mozilla said that "most mobile apps are built with Web technologies at the core and then wrapped in a proprietary technology to distribute the app on a specific platform." The organization said that, by focusing on HTML5 and Web technologies to create mobile apps, it is "unwrapping" the mobile apps.
But there's an irony -- and possibly a conflict at some point -- for Mozilla Corp., the for-profit arm of the Mozilla Foundation that is behind the popular Firefox browser. The Mozilla Foundation receives about 85 percent of its income from Google, the force behind the leading mobile platform, Android. This is the $300 million Google pays for being the default search engine in the Firefox browser.