2014-01-08

Co.Labs

Screw Android, Here Are Two Huge Companies Betting On Firefox OS

It’s not the sexiest thing to tout software’s openness, but that's the driver of OEMs' renewed interest in this Android alternative.



Mozilla was targeting the emerging market with its mobile Firefox operating system, but judging by its CES announcements, there may still be an audience for it in the U.S. On the phone front, LG showed off its entry level phone, the Fireweb, but the biggest surprise came from Panasonic, which said it will be using the OS on its TVs.

Part of the reason the TV maker will be using Firefox OS over something like Android is the openness. Panasonic’s U.S. vice president of Interactive Content, Merwan Mereby, told The Next Web that the alternative operating systems are too heavily controlled by their makers to be free to use in whatever way they choose. Mereby further indicated the marketplace for apps was the area Panasonic could customize most to compete against other manufacturers.

Mozilla is promising higher end phones from ZTE, citing two dual core devices currently being worked on. Right now, however, the only phones available running the Firefox OS feature low-end specs, aimed at first-time smartphone users. LG’s Fireweb has been available in Brazil for a few months but will most likely make its way to the U.S. shortly.

The main feature of the OS is its search function, which highlights which apps/sites would facilitate the search query. For example, if you typed a song or a band’s name in the search field, the displayed icons would switch to ones like SoundCloud, YouTube, Wikipedia, or others that apply. This type of featured placed front and center takes the guesswork out of searching for an app that may or may not do the ultimate goal like, say, looking for lyrics of a song. Mozilla is banking on this concept making more sense to users coming from a flip phone, unfamiliar with the whole app process.

Developing an app for Firefox OS really is as simple as building an HTML5 web app. Mozilla has also developed new web APIs, however, for access to things like Bluetooth and battery status-–traditionally only available in native apps.

Further into the future might also include Firefox OS appearing on desktops and tablets. VIA is previewing a motherboard with the Firefox OS embedded as well as a traditional stand-alone computer. Neither one is ready for mainstream adoption, but the companies are hoping early adopters will jump on board to test the products. On the tablet side it looks like Foxconn will be the first to produce devices once the software is finalized and better optimized for the form factor.

Despite its many benefits, there still just isn’t a whole lot of excitement for the Firefox OS. That may change though if LG, ZTE, or especially Panasonic can create compelling hardware to show off the open source software. Even with lackluster awareness, Mozilla is still proving there’s a place for yet another mobile OS where most people thought there wasn’t.

[Image: Flickr user John Karakatsanis]