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Watch Out, Android and iOS: Another Mobile OS Is Coming

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Hey, gecko, move over for another lizard. However, you won't have to worry about having one steal your insurance-company gig. This high-tech reptile only has eyes on the likes of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) , Google, and Microsoft. iOS, Android, and Windows Phone, don't look now, but there's another OS getting ready to enter the mobile operating system arena.

Mozilla, the parent organization of the Firefox browser, plans to launch its mobile operating system, formerly known as Boot2Gecko, or B2G, in early 2013. B2G is open source, license-free, and built on HTML5, the latest Web standard. Because it is based on Web technology, it should allow for cheaper handsets because of lower hardware and RAM requirements than needed by devices built around proprietary software.

Another mobile OS ecosystem -- a competitive one, certainly -- would be a welcome addition for mobile carriers in their struggles to keep flesh-eating handset subsidies from eating their bottom lines. Sprint Nextel and Deutsche Telecom have agreed to support the Mozilla mobile OS -- renamed Firefox OS -- on devices that run Qualcomm's (Nasdaq: QCOM  ) Snapdragon processor. Telefonica (NYSE: TEF  ) and Telecom Italia have also committed to supporting Firefox OS phones.

Phone makers ZTE and Alcatel (NYSE: ALU  ) have gotten on board to produce phones running Firefox OS, and Mozilla said that the Brazilian carrier Vivo will have the launching honors when the OS is ready. Vivo is a division of Telefonica.

Markets such as Brazil may be the perfect environment for Firefox OS to grow up. Ars Technica spoke with Mozilla evangelist Christian Heilmann, who explained that the OS can run on low-end devices developed for the emerging world. If that is indeed the case, Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) , which has relied on the low-end world market for much of its revenues, may be in for even more trouble in the coming years.

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Fool contributor Dan Radovsky owns shares of Nokia. The Motley Fool owns shares of Qualcomm, Microsoft, Apple, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple, Microsoft, and Google and creating bull call spread positions in Microsoft and Apple. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (2)

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  • Report this Comment On July 04, 2012, at 11:24 PM, marv08 wrote:

    "Because it is based on Web technology, it should allow for cheaper handsets because of lower hardware and RAM requirements than needed by devices built around proprietary software."

    This sentence disqualified the whole article. Firefox is quite a resource intensive app, browsers can eat tons of memory and technologies like CSS3 animations and complex Javascript can tax the CPU quite a bit. E.g. Palm's WebOS was also based on HTML5 etc. It did not require less hardware, and it wasn't any cheaper than competing phones running Android or a Windows system, heck, considering subsidies, they were not even cheaper than Apple's models.

    The only way to bring a cheap smartphone to the market is to use either outdated or low-quality components. You can absolutely do that with almost any existing OS.

  • Report this Comment On July 05, 2012, at 2:22 AM, SonofCaan wrote:

    @marv, I don't think you proved the whole article as "disqualified".

    While we've all been led to the trough recently with the carriers-want-a-third-ecosystem argument and somehow been asked to root for MSFTs WP8 doesn't seem to work for me.

    Patents, license agreements and such are what I thought were keeping a real alternative mobile OS from coming forward. If Mozilla can find a way to do this, possibly making it an open source project, then I wouldn't care about its specs initially.

    Meego, rumored Ubuntu mobile, Mozilla, heck I'll even root for ol' Symbian again before I get on the WP8 train.

  • Report this Comment On July 05, 2012, at 10:02 AM, marv08 wrote:

    @SonofCaan, I would think that carriers do not necessarily want a 'third ecosystem', they want one that supports them in selling their, normally terrible, value-added services, allows them to keep charging horrendous amounts for text messaging and also to discriminate services (like VoIP, chat, alternative text messaging apps, video telephony etc). Anything that allows them to keep profits, make customers pay ETFs and tons of 'extras' (like for the honor to pay for data you have paid for already a second time, if you want to tether). And anything that delays the terminal reality, that people only want them as dump pipes.

    Apple and Google have not played well with them (Apple to an even lesser degree than Google, they at least allow carriers to pre-install unremovable junk ware, and leave them in command of software updates – a good tool to enforce early upgrades and ETFs. MS finally crossed the line completely and will even, by default, include the archenemy on the carriers on every Windows Phone 8 device: Skype. They have long started looking for the fourth ecosystem.

    The problem with this thinking is, that any OS that follows the desires of the telcos too closely will fail.

    The problem with Mozilla (or any other open OS/software) is that open source circles are notoriously bad at creating consistent user experiences and acceptable GUIs. There are simply not enough geeks to make any open source platform a viable market. And building a competitively priced smartphone requires huge volumes. Even if you can pay all the patents and stuff, this sum will be nothing compared to what you overpay for components and manufacturing. So finally, you will end up with a worse phone, if you want to keep the price down. And how low can you go? Below the Android devices starting at $0? Below the iPhone 3GS and 4? Any truly cheap device built at low volumes could not even compete with models from 1 and 2 years ago, and it would need many years to truly develop an ecosystem with all types of content, especially since the open source audience is quite well known for not being too eager to pay for anything (at large, individuals excluded).

    Yes, simply saying all this can be ignored and pushed aside by saying: 'Web technology' solves that, is disqualifying. The author would have to paint a much bigger picture and answer many more questions to present something that is convincing. How would the Mozilla guys fund a cloud infrastructure? How do you establish an acceptable consumer-level support (not even Google with all the money in the world manages to do that)? And that's just the basics...

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