My views on Firefox OS

[ music | Styx - Fooling Yourself ]

Initially I blew off the Boot 2 Gecko initiative (now Firefox OS or something close to that) as unnecessary and pointless. I freely admit I was wrong. It’s actually a good idea, I like the idea, and I hope it works well. that said, I still think some of the goals are pipe dreams and pointless. I’m specifically replying to some of the things written in this blog post by Rob Hawkes (no relation to Guy), There is something magical about Firefox OS.

Feature phones. What? This is nearly 2013. Yes, there are probably literally a billion feature phones out there. There are reasons for that. They’re cheap, much more rugged than smartphones, last a week on a charge, and fulfill a basic need for communication via text and voice. They have very small screens with low resolution monochrome LCD displays. These are cheap in financial terms, power requirements,  and processing needs. There’s nothing Firefox can bring to this market that the cheap, small embedded OS can’t do, and no new benefits. To do anything smartphone related, you’ll need at least a better screen. Instantly you double the cost and reduce the disposability. Double? When you’re looking at hardware that costs $6 to $10 to produce and can be sold for under $20, yes, double.

Cheap smartphones. There are already cheap Android phones. A Firefox OS based phone MIGHT yield better web performance than Android on an underpowered phone, but screen space and computing power is getting so cheap that a 1GHz ARM powered phone will be under a hundred dollars by the time B2G hits 1.0. Now, if you make that type of phone perform better, that’s great, but let’s not pretend that’s really the goal here.

The goal of Firefox OS isn’t to compete with high-end devices, but to offer entry- to mid-level smartphones at feature phone prices. – Bonnie Cha

No it’s not. It’s to create an even more open competitor to Android. You can’t make a cheaper OS than android, because there’s no licensing cost to undercut. You can’t make the phones cheaper with software. Maybe Firefox OS makes underpowered hardware more usable, that doesn’t make the phone cheaper, just less crappy. Hardware is getting cheaper every six months, the problem is that they’re so cheap that it’s not worth the dev time to put Android on “feature” phone segment handsets.

The truth is Firefox OS might succeed where WebOS failed, and that is the exciting part. That’s why I did a 180 and began to like what FireFox OS could be. It’s more open than Android, has more dedicated backers than WebOS in both software and hardware partners, and based on proved tech rather than new tech. But give up on the hippie mantra of cheat smartphones for the masses. The masses will use yesterday’s tech. Yesterday’s hardware starts out as tomorrow’s, which Firefox OS might just make awesome for entirely different reasons.

9 Comments

  1. Pete had this to say,

    September 15, 2012 @ 3:50 am

    Given that the OS works properly and the UI is responsible etc., the main threat will be the eco system around it. This means there need to be a good app store with easy payment methods.

    Without this, there are less developers who think it’s worth making software for the platform. Without apps, the platform is not attractive and will fail.

  2. LoC had this to say,

    September 15, 2012 @ 5:59 am

    The hype about “mobile” devices is an american thing.
    It is inflated on purpose by the “industry” that needs to sell, no matter what and how. It does not consider that there are areas of the world where PCs are still much needed, especially the low end ones and where the little phones are more than enough for people’s needs.
    I find rather pathetic the idea of “democracy” brought with high end (and mostly useless) gadgets. It may sound strange for Americans but not everybody likes or needs to “lounge on the sofa” while having an “experience” with a touch screen device. Even less when putting food on the table is an issue or when there isn’t electricity and so on.

    On the other side, people in “rich countries” who are already consumers of “cool gadgets” like Apple’s products, will not buy the third grade lame version, given the fact that those gadgets are status symbols more than anything else.

  3. Firefox had this to say,

    September 15, 2012 @ 9:25 am

    “Initially I blew off the Boot 2 Gecko initiative (now Firefox OS or somethign close to that) as unnecessary and pointless. I freely admit I was wrong.”

    Nice to hear that.

    “that said”

    You should start building applications for it. ;)

  4. Navert had this to say,

    September 15, 2012 @ 12:17 pm

    I disagree with this statement “There’s nothing Firefox can bring to this market that the cheap, small embedded OS can’t do, and no new benefits.”. Do you know how to make an app for any of the feature phones? It isn’t easy. I was in a company that wanted to get an app in phones. This was before iphone existed. All the different ways that the app had to be programmed, the challenge to get it available on the different carrier app stores, it was a bit too much. Firefox OS would simplify that a lot.

    Also, I don’t see why feature phones would need to change their screen size. I have a feature phone (my iphone and android don’t have an voice/data plans with them :)). It is a flip phone with a tiny screen. I was looking through the “apps” that I can buy for it and they have a lot, including Angry Birds. So, if they can put Angry Birds on that small screen, then most of what people get with iphones can fit on this small, non-touch feature phone screen.

  5. Benoit Jacob had this to say,

    September 15, 2012 @ 1:03 pm

    “You can’t make a cheaper OS than android, because there’s no licensing cost to undercut. You can’t make the phones cheaper with software.”

    That is not necessarily true: while Android is free of cost by itself, recent (4.x) versions of Android require relatively powerful hardware to run on. This is where Firefox OS has an opportunity to cater to the lower-end market by maintaining lower minimum hardware requirements.

  6. Grey had this to say,

    September 15, 2012 @ 3:35 pm

    Navert: Low end phones aren’t really a useful platform for apps with small low res screens. I suppose FxOS could make app dev easier there for simple apps that are mostly text based, but that’s a very specific and possible financially unattractive niche. Development and distribution for dumbphones is effectively nonexistent, and I totally concur difficult. However, very few people ever develop for-pay accessories for the low end of a market unless it’s cheap and in high volumes. App development for these low end phones will remain sparse regardless of how easy it is.

    Benoit: You admit Android is free, but requires hardware of a certain capability, I said that. My very next sentence was “ou can’t make the phones cheaper with software. Maybe Firefox OS makes underpowered hardware more usable” which was your point. So basically we agree.

    LoC: That’s funny, because aside from Motorola, all the handset makers are from other countries, and selling massive numbers of products in non-US countries. You’re simply trying to make a pseudo-political statement that the US and wealth are bad. Considering there are nations where the vast majority of people have cell phones and there is no landline infrastructure at all, and how important that cell service is to the people and helping them change governments, your statement that mobile is a US thing is bigoted and false. The poor in Sudan maybe can’t afford an iPhone, but in a couple years their $20 phone will be much more powerful, and they’ll have the computing ability we enjoy today in their hands. Education brings freedom and equality. You’re a troll.

  7. Navert had this to say,

    September 15, 2012 @ 9:57 pm

    That’s why I mentioned that Angry Birds exist for my phone. I haven’t played it so I have no idea how good it is. But I would consider that game needing touch and pretty good resolution and yet it works on my phone. I also attended a Adobe MAX conference where they showed some feature phones that they had ported Adobe Air to and explained how you could create Air apps for them.

    I don’t think any one expected the explosion that Apple’s app store would be. The idea of being able to install any app on your phone and use it was pretty inventive (at least to me). Bringing that same power to the feature phone is going to be just as explosive.

    I don’t think the apps have to be text based. Even though the phone I have is the cheapest one I could find, it still can display pictures. The pictures aren’t super high-res but they are good enough for a lot of applications (including games). One example is I have a subscription to an alarm company that has an iphone/android app that lets me peek into my house anytime/anywhere and I can enable/disable the alarm just as easily. Both of those functions are doable on a feature phone.

  8. Jack had this to say,

    September 16, 2012 @ 6:46 am

    Firefox OS fail,because market saturation.

  9. Fawad Hassan had this to say,

    September 16, 2012 @ 1:20 pm

    “Firefox OS fail,because market saturation.”

    Firefox OS will be a big success because it’s totally unique under the hood and for users, it’s less resource hungry, excellent battery timing, and all the features of smart phones.