Mozilla, recognized for their Firefox browser, partnered with Spreadtrum to provide customers with a $25 smartphone. Spreadtrum is a Shanghai based fabless semiconductor company that manufactures cellphones. Mozilla will use Firefox OS to expand smartphone market share by capitalizing on high growth emerging markets.
Firefox OS is not a direct competitor to Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android OS. Consider that a warning to not dump the iPhone in favor of Firefox. Instead the competition is directed at feature phones. Feature phones are positioned between smartphones and “dumb” phones and are extremely popular in developing countries because of cost. An example is the Motorola i886 at $100. Developing countries are cost sensitive and customers cannot afford the iPhone or Galaxy S4.
John Jackson, VP of Mobility Research, stated, “In six short months, Firefox OS has more than established itself in the very markets it aimed to address.”
Three Firefox OS phones are available in 15 different markets. The chief markets are Latin America and Eastern Europe. Mozilla has plans of expanding to Africa and Asia as well. These large markets are waiting to be captured by the savviest of operating system builders, which appears to be Mozilla at the moment.
The $25 smartphone premiered at the Mobile World Congress. Reference designs and prototypes by Spreadtrum were available for review. The chipset is a highlighted reason for lowered cost. The chipset is a Cortex A5, but unlike the iPhone or Galaxy S4 the phone is incompatible with LTE. Internet connection is supported by WDMA and EDGE. The two networks represent a 2.5G level. The phone operates slower than state-of-the-art smartphones though not a problem in developing countries because 2.5G EDGE is generally the network available.
Leader of the Mozilla Project Mitchell Baker said at the MWC, “Imagine that phone in your pocket is a feature phone. Imagine when you go buy one of these devices every euro is precious to you.”
An operating system is the difference between a smartphone and feature phone. The $25 Firefox OS phone is the most affordable mini-computer on the market. Phone capabilities allow for app installation, web page loading, sending e-mail with an on screen keyboard, and un-pinch for photo zoom. iTunes is not available, but there is a music player.
Mozilla has a short-term competitive advantage over other affordable smartphones because of their early penetration into emerging markets. Android and iPhone are focused on innovative technology for affluent customers. The Firefox OS requires a quarter of the memory necessary for Android.
Long-term plans are where Mozilla could hit a wall. Feature phones are becoming increasingly resourceful and spinning their name to “entry smartphones”. The Motorola i886 uses a variation of Android’s open source software. Hardware for smartphones is becoming cheaper thus decreasing the cost of phones with advanced operating systems. These technological developments combined with year-on-year growth in markets such as India, which experienced 229% increase in 2013 Q3 smartphone sales, cause incentive for added competitors in the affordable smartphone industry.
Mozilla’s Firefox OS is playing Godzilla in affordable smartphone expansion but must be aware of King Kong competition knocking on the door.
Editorial by Niles Olson