Firefox OS is an operating system from Mozilla, the makers of the Firefox web browser. It’s designed to run applications written using web technologies including HTML5 and JavaScript. And it’s designed to run on a range of devices including smartphones and smart TVs.

But so far most phones that have shipped with Firefox OS have been entry-level devices that haven’t really stood out from the competition: there are plenty of dirt cheap Android phones on the market and right now there are few compelling reasons to buy a Firefox OS device instead of an Android one.

So Mozilla plans to take a new approach: focus on quality rather than price.

firefox os

Mozilla CEO Chris Beard sent a letter to the Mozilla community recently outlining a new initiative called Ignite which is aimed at getting people more excited about the platform.

He notes that the company’s previous efforts to compete on price with the promise of a $25 smartphone, for instance, haven’t gained much traction. So Mozilla’s going to drop plans for dirt cheap phones and instead focus on building products people want to use.

One possible way to do that? Add support for Android apps. Mozilla hasn’t decided it will follow that path, but the developers are at least considering the possibility. Adding compatibility for Android apps to Firefox OS would instantly allow users to run thousands of apps that aren’t otherwise available for the platform… although that move hasn’t really helped other operating systems such as BlackBerry OS or Sailfish OS to make a dent in Android’s market share: Android apps tend to run best on Android phones.

Still, it could help close the app gap a little bit while allowing Mozilla to focus on other initiatives that would make Firefox OS stand out.

For example, the team wants to make Firefox OS not only powerful and easy to use, but also easy to hack and understand. Among other new features, Beard says Mozilla “will enable the mobile equivalent of ‘View Source,'” and make it easier for developers to use Web APIs to create web apps that can access a phone’s hardware.

While Mozilla has been partnering with phone makers to release devices with Firefox OS pre-loaded, the team also plans to release early adopter builds that testers will be able to install as custom ROMs on unlocked Android devices.

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9 replies on “Firefox OS isn’t just for cheap phones: Mozilla to focus on quality and user experience”

  1. It would be very difficult to take Android and iOS on directly. Microsoft has much deeper pockets than Mozilla, and they’ve been gaining users, but it’s been very slow. Android and iOS have weaknesses. Android is very fragmented, most phones don’t get updates, and Android is basically a data miner for Google. iOS is completely locked down and iPhones are usually expensive (without contract subsidies). There’s no way any new OS is going to be able to compete with them on app selection. The best thing Mozilla can do is make sure the basics are covered. I believe they could carve out a niche user base if they provided quick updates to all phones, didn’t collect users’ data, had phones with a simple, easy to use OS, phones that were decent quality yet affordable (Microsoft has proven you can build a decent quality phone for less than $100), and allowed users to make changes to the OS. (That may sound like a lot, but FirefoxOS already provides most of that list.) Mozilla will never convince the app junkies to switch, but people who value updates, privacy, and simplicity or customization would have a good reason to switch. Honestly, the only apps I ever use on my phone are Firefox, calculator, memo, alarm clock, music player, calendar, camera, voice recorder, contacts, and messaging app. All these are basic apps. If I could get a decent quality FirefoxOS phone that had those basics covered that got updates for under $100, I would strongly consider switching.

  2. Hey, here’s a thought for the marketing geniuses:

    Why don’t you try ACTIVELY to sell the device in the third world–the UNITED STATES?!
    You just might be surprised at how much US consumers are fed up with having no choice.

  3. Wonder what happened to their matchstick hdmi dongle. I remember it was supposed to ship in February, then they posted a kickstarter update saying yeah… we’re changing the hardware. Is there any wonder people don’t take Mozilla seriously?

  4. they should try to allow the most common apps in andrioid but NOT all

  5. Firefox phones have it even worse than Androids : forget updates. Oems aren’t even remotely interested in updating them. I would never recommend these things to anyone.

    1. I had my ZTE Open C for about a year and no major update, still FF 1.3. Despite that and its minor glitches, it’s still VERY usable as a BASIC smartphone – I can check my email, upload photos to FB or email them, check FB, send messages, talk. It lacks a lot (I can’t even set different ringtones for each contact), but I don’t care – it gets the job done, it was cheap to get, it even survived a few falls and impacts, battery lasts up to 5-6 days when I don’t go online and I talk as needed (I hate being stuck on a phone…).

  6. Apps don’t sell phones, heavy marketing does.

    Mozilla needs to get very inventive if they really want to compete in the smartphone market, lots of deep pockets competing. It’ll take something very unique or extremely useful to the end user to get people’s interest over the current juggernauts.

    1. Apps are certainly important though. I tried FirefoxOS on my Nexus 5 about a year ago, and at least at that time, there wasn’t even a single functioning navigation app.

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