Open Source Firefox vs iOS, Android in Emerging Mkts

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 6/25/2014 02:00:00 AM
France's Alcatel is an also-ran handset maker seeking to capitalize on Mozilla OS.
I got on the information superhighway in 1994. Back then, our 33,600-baud modem was a high-spec model even if pictures took minutes to load and I got disconnected many times over the course of an hour. No matter; I used Netscape Navigator then like everyone else--it wasn't the most stable program either but it got the job done. Twenty years later, my preferred browser is still a son-of-Netscape in Mozilla (Netscape's Mosaic + Godzilla) Firefox. The ethos of Mozilla Firefox do appeal to me in being an open source, non-profit institution.
An area where Firefox has fallen behind though is in adopting to the move to mobile devices. While there is a Firefox version for Google Android, there's none for Apple iOS. Now, however, Firefox is harnessing its open source advantage which could appeal to hardware manufacturers to duke it out with Google and Apple in mobile OS. With Microsoft's mobile OS something of a dud, there may be room for another competitor. What's more, Firefox is being strategic in seeking out emerging markets where lower licensing fees for its newfangled OS and hardware manufacturers seeking to customize it for entry-level smartphones may play to Firefox's advantage:
Like its namesake Web browser, the Firefox OS was created by Mozilla’s army of volunteer coders as an open alternative to company-owned standards. Mozilla, a portmanteau of “Mosaic” and “Godzilla,” began as an open-source development arm of Netscape before spinning off in 2003 as a nonprofit foundation dedicated to creating code for others to commercialize. These days, though, it’s making some serious money of its own, earning $100 million on $311 million in revenue in 2012, the most recent year it disclosed results. A bit more than 90 percent of the revenue came from a search traffic deal with Google.

Mozilla’s move into the mobile OS market makes it less of an ally and more an adversary to Google and Apple (AAPL). Android dominates this market, accounting for about 78 percent, compared with 18 percent for second-place Apple’s iOS, according to market researcher IDC. But neither was designed specifically for the lower-tech smartphones that mobile carriers are trying to sell in developing markets. By simplifying data management and cutting energy use, Firefox OS aims to attract people with less money and unpredictable access to networks and electricity.
To make a long story short, the features desired in the developing world are not necessarily those of interest in the developed world. For instance, European and North American users have no problems using 3G connections to stream music on the go, but FM--free music--is still the way to go in Brazil and Mexico where 3G is mainly for rich folks. Also, a less sophisticated OS may be desired so it can run on lesser-powered devices and use less power in places where power sockets aren't ubiquitous:
Mozilla and Telef√≥nica agreed to first target Brazil, where the carrier controls almost 30 percent of the mobile market. “If you design for Brazil, it’s going to function in Mexico,” says Gal. “If you sit in Cupertino, it’s not going to work in Brazil or Mexico.” This has led to some innovations that may seem obvious but hadn’t been high priorities for OS designs aimed at the U.S. or Europe.
Because Mozilla isn’t yet working to put its OS on high-end phones, it can keep its code simple, yielding longer battery life. Firefox OS lets people easily monitor data use to keep costs down. It supports FM radio, a valuable feature in Latin American markets. To soften the learning curve for first-time smartphone users, it can search within multiple apps at once, unlike other systems. Gal’s example is a query for Madonna that yields a bio from Wikipedia and songs from a streaming service.
Definitely, I am sympathetic to Firefox's approach and wish they succeed. Having been successively trampled on by Microsoft, Google and Apple, however, let's just say the good open source, non-profit guys have their work cut out for them since the biggies won't likely take this challenge lying down. For instance, I can see price-slashing among Android and iOS devices to preempt Firefox from taking away market share in the rest of the developing world. Indeed, some are saying Firefox is doomed to fail as entry-level competitors increase but we'll see...