The Strain in Spain Could Help Firefox OS Take Root


The low-end smartphone market is heating up, and Mozilla is seizing the opportunity. Despite Spain’s severely weakened economy, it was chosen for the debut of the ZTE Open. Due to the extreme austerity measures in certain South American and European countries, “low-cost smartphones will be very appealing,” said Joshua Flood, a senior analyst at ABI Research

The ZTE Open — the first commercially available smartphone running Mozilla’s Firefox operating system  — will be launched in Spain on Tuesday by Telefónica.

It will be available for about US$90, with prepaid customers getting a balance of roughly $40 worth of phone calls.

Telefónica will launch Firefox OS smartphones in Colombia and Venezuela soon, and will unveil other Firefox OS devices later this year.

“We believe Firefox OS is the answer to bringing greater openness to the smartphone industry where consumers are increasingly tied to closed ecosystems,” Yotam Ben-Ami, director of open Web devices at Telefónica Digital, told TechNewsWorld.

However, whether smartphones running the Firefox OS have a fighting chance in a world where Android and iOS have overwhelming dominance is doubtful.

“Even if you take Apple and Android out of the equation, you still have BlackBerry and Windows Phone, who have spent years building up their names and are still doing so,” Ramon Llamas, a research manager at IDC, remarked. “WebOS came and went not once but twice, which just goes to show how hard it is to break in with a new platform.

About the ZTE Open

The ZTE Open is an entry-level smartphone that Telefónica will target at “cost-conscious consumers — young people or customers moving from a feature phone to a smartphone for the first time,” Ben-Ami said.

It has a 3.5-inch HVGA TFT touchscreen display and a 3.2-MP fixed focus camera with style filters. It will be offered with a 4-GB microSD card.

Features include built-in messaging, email, calendar, FM radio, location-based services from Nokia maps, and the Firefox browser.

For communications, the ZTE Open runs Bluetooth 2.1, WiFi 802.11b/g/n and AGPS.

Bluetooth 2.1 may be (ahem!) long in the tooth, and the camera may seem a tad stodgy, given that autofocus, flash, and much higher resolutions are the norm with modern smartphones, but “it’s not going to be how many MP the camera has or how fast the processor is,” IDC’s Llamas pointed out. “They want this to be the phone to showcase Firefox, and that’s the central issue.”

The ZTE One comes with Facebook and Twitter access pre-integrated. Content partners include eBay, Kayak, the Weather channel, TMZ, Wikipedia, CNN Money, Time and Airbnb.

“It’s a fantastic proposition and we have ambitious targets for it, but it’s also just the beginning as we bring more Firefox OS devices to our markets in the coming months,” Ben-Ami stated.

The Potential for a Firefox Smartphone

The first smartphones running the Firefox OS were developed by Geeksphone in partnership with Telefónica and made available to devs in February.

The Firefox OS was developed using HTML5, which promises — like Java — to let devs write code once and run it on many devices.

Other smartphones running the Firefox OS are due soon, from Alcatel, LG Electronics, Huawei and Sony.

“I think a number of these mobile OEMs realize the low-end market is going to be the most promising for growth from a shipment and market share perspective,” Nick Spencer, a senior practice director at ABI Research, told TechNewsWorld. This market is less brand-conscious, so smaller vendors have a better chance.

Fine, but Spain? A country where unemployment has hit a record near-60 percent? Is launching a smartphone there good business?

Because some of the countries targeted by Firefox OS smartphones in Latin America, Eastern Europe and parts of Southern Europe “are under extreme austerity measures, low-cost smartphones will be very appealing,” Joshua Flood, a senior analyst at ABI Research, told TechNewsWorld.

Firefox “needs to ship near 10 million devices across multiple vendors in Q1, 2014, to remain relevant,” Spencer said, “but the reliance on HTML5 apps does remove the need for a large installed base to ensure a competitive apps and content catalog