Mobile World Congress this year has been abuzz with talk of the $25 Firefox Phone, but just what is it and who would want one?
Many will know as a popular and powerful open-source web browser for PC, Mac and Android smartphones.
With more of what we do every day taking place through the web — email, word processing and even gaming — it stands to reason that a web browser on its own might make a solid platform for an operating system. Just ask Google, whose Chromebook laptops run nothing more than the web browser yet accounted for 2 of the 3 best selling laptops at Amazon last Christmas and 20% of all notebooks sold in the US last year.
Firefox OS then is a fully-featured free operating system for mobile phones, tablets and even televisions complete with its own app store.
At Mobile World Congress this year there were several announcements from Mozilla, the not-for-profit organisation which develops Firefox, including availability of 7 new handsets running the Firefox OS.
At the moment the operating system is predominantly used in smartphones destined for developing markets such as India and Africa, seen as a potential upgrade path from the less-functional ‘feature phones’. Aside from the commercial lure for handset manufacturers to expand their business into countries not already saturated by smartphones, affordable devices such as those running Firefox OS can be enablers for individuals, providing easier access to online resources such as banking, learning and retail.
Among the new handsets announced this week is the ZTE Open II. A budget smartphone running the latest version 1.3 of Firefox OS it sports a 3.5-inch display, 1.2 GHz dual core processor, 2 megapixel camera and 256 MB of storage. Paltry specifications in comparison even to low end smartphones in maturer markets but, at the right price, it’s an affordable and attractive upgrade from a candy bar feature phone in many countries.
The so-called $25 Firefox Phone unveiled this week is another developing market device, although it won’t be available quite yet. Mozilla has, in collaboration with a mobile chipset supplier Spreadtrum, shown a prototype handset which it claims manufacturers will be able to build and retail for as little as $25. That's right, just £15 for a smartphone.
Again, the specifications aren’t great — on your 15 quid phone you won’t even be able to download data over 3G networks, but as a relative experience it’s significantly better than the handsets they’re set to replace.
While it’s unlikely we’ll see a £15 Firefox Phone making a splash in the UK any time soon, other handsets running Firefox OS have been a hit closer to home, particularly in some Eastern European countries. And thanks to a partnership with Mozilla, Firefox OS is now set to power a new range of smart TVs from — if only they could cost as little as £15... ^DM
Are you excited by Firefox OS? Would a £15 smartphone have a place in your pocket?
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