Mozilla: We don't give a damn about cheap smartphones

Get ready for ‘Ignite’, whatever that is

Browser-turned-OS-institution Mozilla has acknowledged that its $25 phone has failed.

Firefox OS was launched with a strategy of not being Google or Apple, into the warm bosom of Telefonica and seventeen other operators at Mobile World Congress in 2013.

At the time, we predicted that it would go the way of Symbian, SavaJe and Sailfish – now, we don't want to say we told you so, but...

However, what was announced and what subsequently transpired are two very different things. Mozilla has told us that "over half of the operators that expressed their support of the OS when we announced it in 2013 have shipped phones, or are in active discussion with us about doing so."

Given that this was twenty-seven months ago it doesn't sound like any of the others are rushing. Mozilla couldn't cite any examples of networks outside the original list who have taken it.

That’s not to say that Mozilla has declared that Firefox OS is dead in phones. The plan is now to go upmarket and do something special, although the company is not saying what, mainly because it hasn’t decided.

The information came in a memo from Mozilla big cheese Chris Beard, which says the plan is unfortunately named "Ignite".

In the memo, Beard says:

The Ignite initiative will focus on building a unified product experience and developer platform that exemplifies our values and the best of the Web.

We will build the ultimate phone experience for the hundreds of millions of people who love Firefox, who care about having a secure, trusted, independent alternative that is hackable, customisable and powerful as an open platform for innovation.

We will enable the mobile equivalent of 'View Source', revamp our security model to expose more of the new mobile Web APIs to developers and enable an extension mechanism to add to the user interface and phone capabilities.

A spokesman for Mozilla told El Reg that pricing "is up to our partners and not determined by Mozilla. But as described in the memo, we will look to focus even more on the quality of the user-experience for Firefox OS".

It’s clear that Mozillians have not been that keen on using Firefox phones themselves, as Beard adds: “This will be the phone that you want to use, and will use every day" — evidently an acceptance that what went before was not something you wanted to use.

He continues: “We will eat our own fox food. It's incredibly hard to build, make decisions and provide feedback on a product you don't use every day. A key part of the Ignite programme will be empowering all Mozillians to actively participate in its development.”

Without saying exactly what Ignite is, the memo adds: “We will provide direct distribution of Ignite builds to early adopters with existing unlocked Android devices. And to bridge this app gap between user expectations and the readiness of the ecosystem, we will explore implementing Android app compatibility.”

The memo signals the end of Firefox OS as a standalone OS: “We will ship v2.2 and all pending work to deliver entry-level smartphones with our key partners. Additional appropriate feature work will be rolled into Ignite. v2.2 will be maintained as a long-lived branch with security and stability updates only.”

The ultra-low-cost smartphone platform is being “reconsidered”.

Comment

Ultimately, Mozilla is looking the wrong way. What’s killing Firefox OS isn’t the quality of the phones, it’s the lack of an app ecosystem.

At the launch it seemed as though the combined might of the operators – and particularly Telefonica – would push the devices into countries which had not yet woken up to smartphones. The idea was to establish a Firefox ecosystem before Android, or to a lesser extent Apple, could take hold.

Mozilla has been let down by those carrier partners who, while they might have liked the “kill Google” strategy, were more focused on subscriber acquisition. That has meant selling, or introducing SIM-free support, for the phones consumers wanted to buy.

For all the protestations that Ignite is a new beginning, it looks like Firefox OS is toast. ®


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