Four months ago at MWC 2012, Mozilla has first unveiled its plans to create a HTML 5-based, open source mobile operating system, although back then there was no way of knowing how far away the project was from reaching the consumer market. Thankfully, Mozilla Foundation has announced today that the first smartphones to use the new Firefox OS will be made by ZTE and Alcatel, and will ship in early 2013 featuring Qualcomm Snapdragon processors.
Mozilla has also announced that the Firefox OS will be backed up by a number of telecom companies such as Deutsche Telekom, Sprint, Smart, Telecom Italia, Telenor and Etisalat. Surprised by the momentum Firefox OS appears to be gaining? You probably shouldn’t be, as an operating system that is really open source, and runs only HTML 5 apps is an idea that appeals to many parties in the “mobile” market, such as smartphone manufacturers, telecom companies and, most of all, the developer community.
The reality is that a lot of (web, Android, iOS, WP7) developers are secretly hoping that all mobile operating systems of the future will be based on HTML5, since that would translate into a single app development process that runs perfectly on all platforms. Surely, both iOS and Android allow you to access HTML5 apps, but they are usually limited in functionality. And this is exactly what the Firefox OS aims to change by allowing developers to access all functions (calling, messaging, games) of a smartphone via HTML5 apps.
By combining HTML5 with Linux elements, the need for an OS in the traditional meaning is gone, meaning the new platform will be able to run well on smartphones with less processing power. It also means that all future HTML-based mobile operating systems will be compatible with all the apps designed for Mozilla’s OS – Google Chrome could actually work on smartphones as well as it does on Chromebooks. Unfortunately for Mozilla, they can’t be sure that being early in the HTML5 game is as profitable as they hope it to be.
What does a HTML5-based smartphone mean for the end user? Simply put, less money to pay for a smartphone, although we’ll have to wait until we get our hands on the first Firefox OS smartphones to judge if the quality of the smartphone experience is at least equal to that offered by undebated leaders in the mobile OS game: Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it won’t, so feel free to disagree in the comment section below!