Is the $25 Firefox OS Phone Going To Be Transformative?
Mozilla has been making much noise about the Firefox OS mobile platform, and new $25 phones that it wants to bring to emerging markets. The company plans to deliver a $25 smartphone by the end of this year, the Wall Street Journal reported last week. Now, TIME is pronouncing the move "a brilliant game-changer," but let's remember that mobile phones are all about the apps, and even Mozilla officials have stopped short of calling Firefox OS phones "smartphones" in the sense that they run the robust apps that iOS and Android phones do.
Android and iOS smartphones have the best apps available for them precisely because they dominate the market and attract developers. In the final quarter of 2013, Android OS had 78% of smartphone users, Apple’s iOS had 18% and Windows Phone and other platforms grabbed the remaining share.
"So if people who already have a smartphone won’t switch to Firefox OS, how could Mozilla possibly get a bigger slice of the mobile OS pie? Simple: Create new smartphone owners. The $25 Mozilla smartphone—packed with Firefox OS, of course—will be sold in emerging markets like India and Indonesia."
While it's true that there are many people in these markets who haven't been able to afford a mobile phone yet, there isn't yet a completely robust app ecosystem for Firefox OS, and Mozilla must offer more incentives for app developers.
According to the Journal's report:
"To tap the next billion first-time smartphone users, Mozilla is collaborating with Chinese chip maker Spreadtrum Communications Inc. to unveil a low-cost chipset that enables smartphones to be priced at $25 this year...While Mozilla has relied on carriers to sell Firefox-powered smartphones in emerging markets in last 12 months, the software company plans to expand its partners to include electronics retailers and local handset brands such as Micromax Informatics in India."
It does sound like these low cost phones are really going to arrive, but Mozilla has to find a way to make app delivery and development profitable, and that will be a challenge.
Higher cost Firefox OS phones have been selling in Hungary, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Greece. They have even sold in limited quantities on eBay in other regions, illustrating that there are interested users around the world.