Firefox Mobile OS; The incredible hard journey that must be done
I feel for the Firefox Mobile OS team the same way that I feel for someone going off on a tough road. Not even just a trip up Everest, but something you have to do. Maybe Frodo’s trek? :)
Mozilla’s mission is to “to promote openness, innovation and opportunity on the Internet.” One area of focus has to be the world of mobile, and it has been in different ways over the years. Having a great browser on iOS or Android can only get you so far though with the closed ecosystems (amazing that Windows is open!) especially iOS.
How can they find a niche in the OS space though? They have gone after the International market with Boot to Gecko and the now announced name of Firefox Mobile OS. They aren’t looking to come out on Verizon and go up against the Droids and the iPhone right away. That is a tough fight. Notice the wording in the title of the announcement (and the theme in most of the posts on the topic) “Mozilla Gains Global Support”.
The Firefox OS for mobile devices is built on Mozilla’s “Boot to Gecko project” which unlocks many of the current limitations of web development on mobile, allowing HTML5 applications to access the underlying capabilities of a phone, previously only available to native applications. Telefónica’s Digital unit joined forces with Mozilla earlier this year to take this work and showcase a new phone architecture where every phone feature (calling, messaging, games, etc.) is an HTML5 application.
Due to the optimization of the platform for entry-level smartphones and the removal of unnecessary middleware layers, mobile operators will have the ability to offer richer experiences at a range of price points including at the low end of the smartphone price range, helping to drive adoption across developing markets.
Can Mozilla win with a strategy that hits areas of the world that aren’t smartphoney yet? The business model of mobile is not the same everywhere. What if the carriers don’t subsidize phones and paying for a full price iPhone is a few months wage? Can Android own that market though?
From my Palm days I remember the carriers REALLY wanting a third player, but there is only so much they do. Being able to easily customize the experience “by changing a web page” is technically powerful, but is it enough compared to the massive app ecosystems elsewhere?
Then there is the “it will never work. The Web isn’t good enough to be the OS.” Here I disagree. A constant frustation has been people telling me that webOS’s issues were due to the Web. webOS != the Web. That being said, building a mobile operating system that consistently responds as well as the top competition and also handles the battery well (the other side of the coin) is hard work. Long toil work, not sexy work. It takes time and blood.
So, Mozilla has a long trek ahead of itself. Fortunately they have their mission by their side, and resources to take the long road to get there. I will be brutal here, but I haven’t thought that Firefox was competitive with Chrome/Safari wrt Mac performance… but with the latest versions I have been shocked. They pulled it off. Apart from scrolling (which is far from smooth for me) the beast is frigging fast. And I give them massive kudos for pulling that all back. Remember, they had to do so back from using XUL. I am sure much blood was shed there, and I look forward to seeing them fight on mobile.
Our Web may be ugly, as democracies are, but the dictatorship won’t work in the long run. Even if you have the best king in the world, what happens when he dies?