Why Firefox -- yes, Firefox -- will become the mobile OS to beat

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry | CITEWorld | March 7, 2014

In the run up to this year's Mobile World Congress, one of the most interesting items was an announcement of more phones running the Firefox OS operating system. The goal of the Mozilla Foundation with Firefox OS is to make dirt-cheap smartphones for the developing world, and they have targeted prices of $20 and $25 for the smartphones -- which are really more like feature phones.

To the skeptics, Firefox OS doesn't stand much of a chance against the juggernaut that is Android. After all, Android is already free and open source. And feature phones are going the way of the Dodo bird. And the mobile platform game is all about network effects and apps, and Android has too much of a lead among developers for Firefox OS to get a foothold. But hold on. There are a few things this narrative doesn't take into account.

First, Firefox OS actually solves a few serious technical problems that Google is not interested in with Android. It is optimized for cheap, low-power chips, and to fit on a very small amount of memory. These are not trivial issues, especially when Google's roadmap for Android is mostly about competing with iOS at the high end. This means that if you are, say, China's ZTE, and you are looking for an OS for dirt-cheap phones, you can't just plug Android in. Sure, you could modify it because it's open source, but that's not your core competency and it's a big investment. So there is actually a real incentive for OEMs to make Firefox phones...