Mozilla, Backed By Big Partners, to Compete in the Smartphone Arena

by Ostatic Staff - Feb. 27, 2012

For a long time now, Mozilla has been talking up its plans to become a serious player in the mobile operating system and smartphone arenas. We've covered the company's Boot to Gecko platform, an open, web-centric operating environment centered on the Gecko rendering engine, and Mozilla is slated to show off its new app store at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week. Now, Mozilla is in an alliance with Telefonica and Qualcomm that could make its smartphone ambitions reality.

Telefonica is one of the most powerful telecom companies in the world, with a huge presence in Latin America. As CNet reports, Telefonica may make a big bet on Mozilla's Boot to Gecko open mobile platform, and has shown off a prototype phone at Mobile World Congress:

 "At a press conference today to announce the Telefonica pact with Mozilla, [Carlos] Domingo demonstrated the reference phone with a 480x320 pixel screen performing a number of mobile phone tasks with its browser-based interface. He put a call through to another phone, sent and received text messages, won a score of 317 at the HTML5 test Web site, and played two lightweight games, and read a Frankenstein e-book."

Domingo reportedly said that phones based on Boot to Gecko will be "10 times cheaper than an iPhone." Qualcomm is partnered with Telefonica and Mozilla on the effort, and can help keep the hardware costs of the phones down.

But the real issue to watch as Mozilla attempts to find success on the smartphone front is how competitors will treat patents and licensing issues. Patents were at the heart of Google's move to acquire Motorola Mobility and its effort to have a big presence in the smartphone business. Microsoft currently collects heavy licensing fees from Android phone makers, based on mobile technology patents that it owns.

Mozilla, on the other hand, doesn't have a lot of experience with the hardware business and doesn't have a broad patent portfolio. The company has pledged to keep Boot to Gecko truly open, and if it does so, it may be able to avoid being caught in patent traps, but Mozilla will have to tread carefully. It is good news that the company has very large and powerful partners in Telefonica and Qualcomm.

More than a year ago, we were asking if it was too late for an open source mobile OS to come along and challenge Android.  At this point, Mozilla appears to be aiming to compete with both Android and Apple in the smartphone arena. We'll soon get to see whether Mozilla's window of opportunity is still open, or if it's closed.