Can an open-source mobile platform optimized for HTML5 apps find a home in the Android- and iOS-dominated U.S. and U.K.? That question may be answered by the availability of the first Firefox OS smartphone in those countries.
The ZTE Open, using the mobile platform that is starting to appear on smartphones in emerging markets, will be available through eBay in the U.S. and U.K. The $79.99 device will be sold unlocked and off-contract, so that it could theoretically be used with any supporting carrier.
ZTE said that the orange-colored Open, which was recently launched by carrier Telefonica in Spain, Venezuela, and Columbia, will be available "soon" to the U.S. and U.K. markets via eBay. ZTE Vice President Dai Wenhong said in a statement that the Open "offers customers a smartphone experience at an incredible price point, making it ideal to cost-conscious customers or those looking to upgrade to a smartphone for the first time."
Location Services, 3G
The Open offers built-in integration with Facebook and Twitter, location-based services like Nokia's Here maps, the Firefox Web browser and access to the Firefox Marketplace of apps. It supports 3G connectivity and features a 480x320 screen, a microSD slot for expandable memory, a 3.15-megapixel rear camera and a 1.0 GHz Cortex A5 processor.
None of these specs will set fan sites afire with enthusiasm, but Firefox OS devices are not about pushing the envelope of performance or coolness. They are about offering Web standards-based, inexpensive smartphones, especially for emerging markets where smartphone penetration has not been as great as in, say, the U.S. or the U.K. That's why this launch of the Open is attracting attention, because it rolls out Firefox OS to developed markets much sooner than had been expected.
Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, told us that "the price is right to attract budget-minded buyers" who bring their own SIM, but "it isn't clear that there's a huge market for a new platform, even at that price point."
Endpoint Technologies Associates' analyst Rogers Kay pointed out that a key question is support. "Is ZTE supporting this?" he asked, adding that the company "does not have a big U.S. organization."
A key selling point for Firefox OS devices is their emphasis on HTML5 apps, which can be readily adapted from Web apps and run on a variety of mobile platforms. This potentially means that developers might be attracted to the platform because they would not have to target their efforts toward one of the many flavors of Android or to Apple's iOS, and then port the app if they wanted to sell for other platforms.
The HTML5 ecosystem got a big boost last week when Amazon announced that it would distribute HTML5-created apps without requiring them to be wrapped in Android. The company noted that "Web apps are now first-class citizens" for the Kindle Fire tablet and the Android devices that Amazon supports. A large population of HTML5 apps on Amazon could be a driver propelling the sale of Firefox OS-devices.
Posted: 2013-08-27 @ 2:15am PT
Now you can find Firefox OS phones on Amazon, too! amzn.com/B00ES1H0LY