I continue a series of materials about operating systems that have never succeeded in the mobile market. There were already texts about Ubuntu Touch and Sailfish OS, it's time to get acquainted with Firefox OS from Mozilla.
In the summer of 2011, the company Mozilla, which releases the Firefox browser, announced plans to create its own universal operating system – for smartphones and tablets. Mozilla explained this move by the need to create a competitor to the new system Chrome OS, which at the time was limited to cheap laptops, and Android, which suffers from fragmentation.
The first demonstration of the Mozilla operating system appeared only in the spring of 2012. Back then, Boot to Gecko was in its early alpha stage, the whole interface was reduced to several tiles with applications. Even on the flagship Galaxy SII, things were slow.
In the summer, Mozilla officially announced that the Boot to Gecko system would be called Firefox OS. The company also named its main partners – ZTE and TCL (brand Alcatel). They immediately limited the Firefox OS market to budget smartphones and developing countries, although they initially targeted different price segments, including flagships. The first smartphone was planned to be released in early 2013 in Brazil, together with Telefonica.
At the end of 2012 Firefox OS appeared as a browser extension. The operating system emulator was launched directly on the computer via Firefox in a small window.
The emulator was intended for developers and geeks who are interested in looking at the new system. It was still a long way to the final version, but it looks more like a working product. You can see the lock screen, the desktop launcher, and even the app store.
Overall it was more like Android with a custom shell than a new system.
The first smartphones on Firefox OS were presented on January 22nd – they were created by Geeksphone in partnership with Spanish Telefonica. The phones were meant only for developers to get familiar with the system and start writing applications.
One smartphone was ultra-budget – the Keon model with a 3.5-inch screen, 512 MB of RAM and a Snapdragon S1 processor. And the second, Peak, was almost a flagship with a 4.3-inch screen and a dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor, but also 512 MB of RAM.
At that time, there were only three ways to try Firefox OS: install the emulator in a browser on a PC, launch the shell on Android – a smartphone via mobile Firefox, or install the system on a smartphone via firmware. Now the first smartphones with Firefox OS preinstalled have appeared, but they were not easy to get.
At the MWC 2013 exhibition in February, two more smartphones on Firefox OS were presented – ZTE Open and Alcatel One Touch Fire. Unlike smartphones on Android, these used only one touch button, which was responsible for returning to the main screen.
At the same time, Mozilla signed contracts with 18 operators from around the world – among them were the Russian VimpelCom (Beeline) and MegaFon. Obviously, the company itself would not be able to cope with sales of smartphones – this is a completely different market for a browser developer.
In the fall, a smartphone LG Fireweb appeared on Firefox OS. By this time, the system had learned to work adequately even on such weak smartphones, at least in speed they were not inferior to their counterparts on Android. It is important to understand that third-party applications were not much different from web pages in their essence – such a feature of the system, which is built on the basis of HTML5. Sometimes the developers did not bother at all and in the application they sewed a link to the mobile version of the site, but without the address bar at the top – this was the case with the application Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and others. That said, there were even games in the Firefox Marketplace, including the popular Cut The Rope.
Journalists, bloggers, and interested parties have been discussing Firefox OS while there was a lot of news about it. Initially, the developers planned that the system would be universal for devices of different types and prices. But in the end, only cheap models on a little-known system appeared on the market – it is difficult to attract a buyer with such a product. That is, it was possible to compete with Google only in the lowest price segment, and with Apple it is almost impossible – the most affordable iPhones then cost two to three times more expensive than any smartphone on Firefox OS and offered a different level of capabilities .
By the end of 2013, Mozilla managed to implement all the basic functions of a smartphone – calls, messages, navigation, camera, and so on. But it was not possible to fill the application store with a sufficient set of software, even though a regular web page could become an application. The system, for example, did not have a normal maps application – only the web version of Here Maps from Nokia. And the WhatsApp messenger was not in any form, because the service did not have a web version, and the developers did not release a separate application for Firefox OS.
Despite all the problems and shortcomings of Firefox OS, Mozilla has not stopped development. Under this system, there was even a tablet Alcatel One Touch Fire 7, which was presented at MWC 2014.
Photo by Cnet
In the summer of 2014, Mozilla took a weird step by allowing smartphones on Android to run applications for Firefox OS. To do this, you had to go to the Firefox browser and open the branded application store. In fact, not full-fledged programs were installed from there, but web pages in a browser without a standard interface with an address bar. There was little useful software in this market, and besides, it worked worse than native applications. Therefore, this decision did not make anyone better – neither Android, nor Firefox OS.
The first official smartphone on Firefox OS in Russia was Alcatel One Touch Fire E – it cost 5 thousand rubles before the upgrade. If you are interested in going back to that time, you can read the review of Firefox OS version 1.3 by Eldar Murtazin or watch the video review to understand what the system was capable of.
A major update to Firefox OS came out only in November, when version 2.0 was presented to developers. The new version of the system has support for NFC and H264 codec, as well as the function of finding a lost device and several interface changes. Most importantly, we added the ability to return to the previous application without going to the multitasking menu. This was a problem because the system did not have a back button like in Android. As a solution, they came up with a right-to-left gesture or vice versa – this way you can flip through applications.
At the end of 2014, an unusual smartphone LG Fx0 appeared on Firefox OS with a translucent body. By design, this design symbolizes the openness of the Mozilla operating system. The smartphone was already running on the final Firefox OS version 2.0.
In 2015, a new phase began for Firefox OS – it was ported to TVs and a version for smart watches was planned. Panasonic unveiled a full line of TVs at CES 2015.
In March, Mozilla announced plans to release sliders and clamshells for Firefox OS for regular dialers. The developers planned to redesign Firefox OS for push-button phones by 2016. This already looks like a desperate step to gain a foothold in at least some market.
In the fall, Firefox OS 2.5 appeared as an application for Android. Who needed it and for what it is not clear. And the company itself said that it was just an experiment.
And already in December 2015, Mozilla officially announced that it was stopping the development of Firefox OS and the release of smartphones on this system. The company admitted that it was never able to “deliver the best possible user experience” and therefore had to stop. Then it turned out that this statement was not entirely correct, and the company did not mean the complete closure of the project, but only the closure of cooperation with telecom operators through which the company sold smartphones. In general, Firefox OS may appear on other devices in the future. And the project was finally closed only in September 2016 – now for sure.
Firefox OS smartphones
The Firefox OS project is now partly powered by open source. On its basis, enthusiasts are developing a B2G OS project and several more alternatives, but the work is proceeding slowly or has already been abandoned, so you should not expect anything serious from this. A more interesting example of Ka iOS is an operating system for push-button telephones that uses some of the workings from Firefox OS. Therefore, it also works with HTML5 applications. The modified Ka iOS, for example, runs the new Nokia 8110. So Mozilla's work was not so useless.
Mozilla and its partners have never published sales reports for smartphones running Firefox OS. Now we can safely assume that they were very low. As with any situation like this, there is no single reason for Firefox OS to fail. This is a whole bunch of problems and mistakes – from positioning a product on the market to implementing ideas.
If you look at the entire chronology of Firefox OS development, you can easily see how the developers themselves do not fully understand the purpose of the project – at first it is a kind of universal system for smartphones of different categories, then only for budget ones, and then we develop a shell for TVs, smart watches and push-button telephones. Although the development of the project was carried out for only 4 years, which is very little, and obviously all efforts and money were not spent on it. The same fate was with Ubuntu Touch, which developed roughly parallel to Firefox OS.
After the history of Ubuntu Touh, Firefox OS and Sailfish OS, it seems that in the modern world it is impossible to create a decent alternative to Android and iOS. On the other hand, the first iPhone initially did not support third-party applications at all and was almost unable to do anything, and Android looked completely different at the start. And they were developed at a time when Nokia was flourishing on the market with its Symbian, which everyone has now forgotten about. Therefore, it is especially interesting to see what a company of the level Huawei can do and what will happen to it in five years.