Can the Firefox OS compete in the market against the giants, Android and iOS? The answer to that question will begin to form this week with the launch Tuesday of the first Firefox OS smartphone.
Telefonica will launch the first device in Spain, the ZTE Open, followed soon by the Alcatel One Touch Fire. Deutsche Telekom is expected to announce its plans for releasing Firefox OS models at a press event in Poland on July 11, and Norway-based Telenor is planning to launch several models in central and eastern Europe sometime this year.
The ZTE Open features a 3.5-inch 480x320 touch screen, 256 MB of memory, a 4 GB microSD card and a 3.2-megapixel camera. It will be offered for 69 euros, or about $90, which includes 30 euros in prepaid credits. The carrier said in a statement that "this first open Web device marks a significant milestone," and added that the model "is just the beginning as we plan to bring a wide range of Firefox OS devices to our customers."
Deutsche Telekom told news media that "the launch of the first Firefox smartphones in Europe is an important step on the way to more innovation and to more competition between the different ecosystems."
Firefox OS, first announced a year ago, is expected to be available on smartphones reaching markets this summer in Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, Serbia, Spain and Venezuela, in addition to countries in central and eastern Europe.
The open standards-based platform features apps using HTML5 technologies, offers a streamlined interface, and provides a "dynamic app search," where users can find free or paid apps for download throughout the Web, instead of primarily in Apple's or Google's stores.
Mozilla, Firefox OS's parent organization, is promoting the idea that HTML5-based apps for the Web will be able to run on Firefox OS devices with modest modification, but some observers point out that complete adaptation of those apps could require interface redesigns, added functions to take advantage of smartphone capabilities like accelerometers, and other considerations.
While Apple and Google have built massive ecosystems to support their platforms, BlackBerry and Windows Phone are still struggling to construct theirs. Mozilla, the organization behind Firefox OS as well as the popular browser, is hoping that it can build its ecosystem around the existing Web.
Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry firm Current Analysis, said it was "pretty exciting" now that Firefox OS phones are heading to market. But, he said, the "big challenge is apps," and it remains to be seen if the HTML5 strategy can jumpstart a massive library of high-performing apps that do the things users want.
Greengart added that, in the markets where Firefox OS phones are being targeted, their "very low price points" mean the carriers are competing with low-priced Android smartphones, which generally "have been lousy," and Nokia's new Asha-based 501, a "very tiny and too damn cute" model. At the moment, he said, Nokia has not yet announced any other devices using the Asha platform beyond the 501.