Print 11 comment(s) - last by Flunk.. on Oct 10 at 9:07 AM

Mozilla's mobile contender is creeping closer to Android, iOS, and Windows Phone

In a market packed with Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Android, Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) iOS, and Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Windows Phone is there room for a fourth major smartphone operating system?  The Mozilla Foundation thinks so, and it's pursuing an aggressive path of development for its Firefox OS, which like Android is based on a Linux kernel.

On Wednesday Mozilla announced the availability of Firefox OS 1.1, a major operating system upgrade, just three months after its first high-profile Firefox smartphone shipped.

The features in the new release include:
  • Push notifications
    • Save battery life
    • Display instant alerts to the user
    • Available in iOS since v3.0 (June 2009)
    • Available in Android since v1.6 "Donut" (Oct. 2009)
    • Available in Windows Phone since v7.5 "Mango" (Sept. 2012; SDK v7.1)
  • MMS
    • Multimedia messaging service
    • Send pictures, audio, and video
    • Available in iOS since v3.0 (June 2009)
    • Fully available in Android since v1.5 "Cupcake" (April 2009)
    • Available in Windows Phone since its release (v7.0) (Nov. 2010)
  • Save content from browser
    • Images
    • Audio
    • Video (only certain formats)
  • Auto-correct when typing with keyboard.
  • Music search
    • Swipe down when in music app to access
    • Search by artist, album, or song title
  • Contact improvements

         Firefox OS
    • Long tap to add contact from call log
    • Import contacts from Gmail or Hotmail
    • Dialer suggests contacts for partially typed numbers for faster access
  • Smooth scrolling
  • Broader language support
    • 15 languages now supported
  • Email improvements
    • Attach images
    • Download images/audio from messages
    • Save working drafts offline
  • Adaptive app search

    Firefox OS
    • Found on the home screen
    • Allows faster finding of apps.
  • Calendar improvements
    • Tap a time slot in the calendar to create an event (versus having to manually input time/date)
    • Reminders
Overall, these improvements are nothing revolutionary, but they do take Firefox OS much closer to being a full-featured modern operating system like iOS, Android, or Windows Phone.  As Windows Phone's development path showed, it's a struggle to both establish a market presence and create full-featured devices; hence at times this kind of iterative approach is required.

Firefox OS is similar in some ways to Android, in that it's starting its campaign at the budget end, is based on Linux, and runs apps on web-centric programming languages.  But Firefox OS takes abstraction even a step farther using HTML5 as the programming language for its apps.

Firefox OS HTML5

The first Firefox OS smartphone -- the ZTE Corp. (SHE:000063) "Open" -- launched in July in Spain and has slowly been rolling out intertationally on various carriers.  In the U.S. it is available unlocked for a $80 USD via a seller page on eBay, Inc.'s (EBAY) site.
ZTE Open
The specs are barebones (as you would expect for that price):
  • Form Factor
    • Size:   114 x 62 x 12.5 mm (4.5 x 2.4 x 0.5 in.)
    • Weight: 120g (4.2 oz)
  • Hardware
    • Screen
      • 3.5 inches TFT LCD
      • 480 x 320 pixel
  • SoC
    • Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) Snapdragon MSM7225A
      • 1GHz single-core ARM Cortex-A5 CPU
      • Adreno 200 GPU
  • RAM: 256MB
  • Battery
    • 1,200mAh lithium-ion (removable)
  • Storage
    • Internal: 512MB
    • External: MicroSDHC, up to 32GB
  • Camera(s)
    • Rear: 2MP (fixed-focus)
    • 352 x 288 video capture
  • Wireless/Cellular
    • 2.5G: EDGE (850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900)
    • 3G: GSM GPRS
    • 3.5G: HSDPA (850 / 1900)
    • Bluetooth: v2.1
    • WiFi: Dual-band, 802.11a/b/g/n

Mozilla stoked sales in September by briefly giving away devices for free to developers who ported an iOS or Android app to HTML5.  That deal has been discontinued -- for now at least.

Sales of the device appear to be better than expected so far; it sold out in the UK and U.S. towards the end of August (granted ZTE's expectations were low; the initial stock was only 1,000 units).  ZTE rushed to produce more units, and the phone resumed shipping last month.

For those interested in the phone either as a budget device or developer device, remember it's only 3G/3.5G capable and uses GSM standard -- that means that in the U.S. it is only compatible with AT&T, Inc.'s (T) and T-Mobile USA's networks.

Sources: Mozilla Blog, Engadget [ZTE Open review]

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"Fourth major"?
By CharonPDX on 10/9/2013 5:42:51 PM , Rating: 1
You mean RIM, Symbian, or Palm?

Is there room? Sure. But will it happen? Not by Firefox. Google had actual marketing muscle and money. Firefox doesn't.

I'm not making any statement on the technical merits - it could very well be leaps and bounds better than Android and iOS (wait - Microsoft has a mobile OS? :-P) - but without marketing muscle and money, it will be a niche player at best. It's *STILL* below Symbian and RIM in usage.

RE: "Fourth major"?
By GulWestfale on 10/9/13, Rating: 0
RE: "Fourth major"?
By Omega215D on 10/9/2013 9:43:12 PM , Rating: 4
If the price is right why not? Also, it's kind of like the chicken and the egg conundrum. The WP is currently going through its phase but is picking up quite a bit of steam, especially outside of the US. Quite frankly there are too many "me too" android phones and there are more and more people adding themselves to the "Samsung is god" collective each day which is what people on Android were complaining about with Apple zealots.

The only problem I would have with a Firefox OS is how are they going to implement this system. I don't like what they've done to Firefox on the desktop making it bloated and not updating/ adding features that the users really wanted.

RE: "Fourth major"?
By purerice on 10/9/2013 11:36:54 PM , Rating: 2
Good point. A while back I switched carriers and had to switch phones. To save money I got a cheaper non-iPhone . At first I thought Android was easy to get used to but over time have grown to miss iOS. I would love to put FFOS (or anything non-Android) on this phone. Mozilla has allowed Sony Xperia owners to put FFOS on their phones and I would love to try it out myself.

However as you said, fear bloat neglect almost matches my hope for something really cool.

RE: "Fourth major"?
By JasonMick on 10/9/2013 6:13:42 PM , Rating: 2
Palm doesn't exist anymore... its brand was eliminated by HP and its IP/OS was sold piecewise to LG, Google, et al.

Symbian is scheduled to be dead. It is exclusively the territory of Nokia's devices division. And Nokia's devices division is now owned by Microsoft. Symbian's legacy has been inherited by Microsoft -- the third place player.

RIM is in fourth place -- for now -- but it is undeniably a dying brand. It has little unique and its phones are only available on contract or at relatively high prices.

I'm not saying Firefox OS will fare any better than RIM/Palm, but I certainly thing it's on to the right approach by going third party (to cut one of the two major costs -- hardware development) and targeting the budget end (as Android did).

You won't see a modern BB10 device retailing for $80 USD unlocked. Some older BBs sell for that, but they're on an essentially dying platform, so that makes them of lower value regardless of the current software and hardware. By contrast Firefox OS is a rising platform, so there's the promises of updates (like this one!) and new apps.

I wouldn't necessarily buy a Firefox phone or a BB -- but if I were to buy one, I'd pick the Firefox phone any day.

And as to this:
Is there room? Sure. But will it happen? Not by Firefox. Google had actual marketing muscle and money. Firefox doesn't.
Remember, Firefox was one of the first to figure out how to monetize a browser, and it today still has about a fifth of the browser market.

True, its pockets aren't as deep as Google's, but also remember that most of Android's base functionality was developed by a startup -- who Google later ACQUIRED. Making a smartphone OS as a slightly smaller company is feasible, if a bit daunting. It can be done (as Android itself showed) if you start at the right segment (arguably the budget market) and don't try to be a jack of all trades (i.e. don't try to produce your own hardware).

Remember, until 2010 or so, Android spent its first couple years on the market as a "niche" player. I don't really see Firefox OS as making a serious run at the premium smartphone space in the next couple years, but who's to tell what the future may bring?

It's something fresh, and say what you will about it, but you have to admit it's something new in a market littered with dying veteran niche brands -- which include those you mentioned (Symbian, Palm, RIM).

RE: "Fourth major"?
By Flunk on 10/10/2013 8:57:41 AM , Rating: 3
Yeah, sorry to tell you this but all 3 of those are dead.

RIM: Bankrupt
Symbian: Death by Microsoft
Palm: Death by HP

By sheh on 10/9/2013 9:57:47 PM , Rating: 2
Java isn't JavaScript.

By althaz on 10/10/2013 1:04:40 AM , Rating: 2
No, it's what gives Javascript a bad name though, because people associate Java (and Javascript) with the Java plugin for their browser, which is a horrible and terrible security risk that nobody should ever have on their system ever.

Java itself is a rather nice language, it just should have basically nothing to do with the web.

By JasonMick on 10/10/2013 8:52:00 AM , Rating: 2
Java itself is a rather nice language, it just should have basically nothing to do with the web.
Absolutely incorrect.

From Wikipedia:
> A Java applet is a small application written in Java and delivered to users in the
> form of bytecode. The user launches the Java applet from a web page and it is then
> executed within a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) in a process separate from the web browser
> itself. A Java applet can appear in a frame of the web page, a new application
> window, Sun's AppletViewer or a stand-alone tool for testing applets. Java
> applets were introduced in the first version of the Java language in 1995.
No, it's what gives Javascript a bad name though, because people associate Java (and Javascript) with the Java plugin for their browser, which is a horrible and terrible security risk that nobody should ever have on their system ever.
I agree with this initial premise somewhat, but I think it's voices some common misconceptions about JS and Java, in the sense that it provides no context and puts things in very black and white ("good" v. "bad") terms.

It's important to understand that the purpose of Javascript (JS), which is to be a faster, more portable version of Java that renders directly in the browser. The issue with JS is that it is targeted at a different, inherently more insecure environment.

The original Sun Java Virtual Machine (JVM) on Windows PCs was traditionally maintained by one entity (for the most part) (Sun/Oracle), while JS interpreters are maintained by numerous entities (Microsoft, etc.). This approach meant that more security flaws popped up in variants and they were slower to fix, however, it also mitigated the security (somewhat) of the flaws as one flaw wouldn't let you compromise everybody, versus a flaw in Sun's JVM (which would).

With the rise of third party JVMs -- such as the Davlik interpreter Android uses -- and companies who insist on rebundling Sun's own JVM, you see a similar trend -- fixes come slower, less consistently, while bugs are found more often. However, at the same time you can't compromise everyone necessarily with your JVM bug. A security hole in Android's JVM won't necessarily be exploitable on Oracle/Sun's PC JVM.

Lastly, JS is more vulnerable performance-wise than Java as it's often interacting with higher latency non-local resources. Hence its interpreters often more aggressively performance tuned, which involves a lot of touching of memory, which can lead to many of the common historically discovered exploits.

Lastly, a trojan applet is not expected to connect to off-machine resources, so you might be able to catch it via permissions warnings. By contrast a malicious JS, running on a hacked webpage is harder to notice as it's not behaving in an unexpected fashion, as the expectations is for web scripts to be communicating with servers.

I'm not saying there aren't certain common security issues with browser JS engines, versus JVMs, I'm just saying that many of these issues are at least in part due to differences in their objective.

a local app != a web site

The two are wildly different from a security perspective, hence it is not surprising that local apps (Java) are at times more or less secure than web sites (with JS).

By Flunk on 10/10/2013 9:07:46 AM , Rating: 4
You're displaying a fundamental misunderstanding of Web technologies. Java is a plugin, like flash, that runs non-web content embedded in a web page.

Java and JavaScript are unrelated languages. Java is a JIT-compiled managed programming language and JavaScript is a scripting language. They weren't even developed by the same people. JavaScript is only called that because some marketing hack decided that "JavaScript" would sell better than the original name "LiveScript".

It's not a matter of which is better at all because they are for totally different use cases. If you want to script a web browser, JavaScript is your only choice because it's the only scripting language all major browsers support.

No one writes applets anymore, they're not compatible with the current "HTML 5" programming model. Java as a client-side programming language for web applications is done, don't pretend it isn't.

By Calin on 10/10/2013 3:23:35 AM , Rating: 2
and it was unbelievably slow. I don't want any more Mozilla things on mobile phones (even though I'm using Firefox on desktop)

"If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion." -- Scientology founder L. Ron. Hubbard

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