Chinese manufacturer Foxconn -- which makes more than 40 percent of the world's consumer electronics for various brands -- announced Monday with Mozilla that it will build a tablet using the new Firefox mobile
operating system, for release under other brands.
The open-source Firefox OS is auditioning to become the third- or fourth-place mobile platform, behind giants Android and iOS.
The announcement was made at a press event in Taipei, and it is in keeping with Foxconn's recent moves to branch out into new manufacturing directions, as its revenue from the manufacture of Apple devices dips. In particular, Firefox-based devices, with the OS included, allow Foxconn more control over devices that it will sell to companies to brand and release as their products.
Foxconn's expansion over its core focus matches Mozilla's efforts to move beyond its base as the provider of a popular browser.
Young Liu, Foxconn general manager of the Innovation Digital System Business Group, noted in a statement that Mozilla's Firefox OS is based on open Web technologies such as HTML5, and this "whole idea perfectly matches the strategies promoted by Foxconn."
Five Firefox Devices
Foxconn showed a Firefox OS tablet at the press event, one of at least five Firefox devices it will build. No tech specs, prices or availability about the tablet were provided. The company indicated that the other Firefox devices could include televisions or large electronic signage boards, as well as smartphones.
Other manufacturers that will release Firefox hardware include Huawei, Alcatel, ZTE, LG Electronics, Sony Mobile and Geeksphone. Sony is expected to release at least one high-end smartphone using the platform, and Geeksphone has been selling two models intended for developers.
Eighteen carriers have pledged support for Firefox, including China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom AG and Singapore Telecommunications.
In order to avoid going head-to-head with the two biggest mobile platforms, Android and Apple's iOS, Mozilla's announced strategy has been primarily focused on entry-level handsets in emerging markets, such as Latin America and Eastern Europe, where smartphones do not have as great a market share as in the U.S. and Western Europe. The first Firefox OS smartphones are expected to be released by July in those areas.
One key difference from Android that Mozilla hopes will help drive manufacturer and carrier adoption is that the OS is fully open source and free, with an open development process, whereas Android, while also open source, is controlled by Google. Mozilla has pointed out that handset makers or carriers have only made relatively minor adjustments to the Android OS, such as interface modifications.
But Firefox is not the only open-source alternative to Google's Android. There's also Ubuntu, which is emphasizing its ability to provide the same OS on mobile, laptop and desktop devices, and Samsung's Tizen.
Another potential advantage for Firefox: the platform is designed specifically for Web apps written in HTML5 that is already widely used on the Web. The idea is that developers can adapt existing Web HTML5 apps largely by adding a particular kind of file about the app, in addition to interface modifications if needed. Unlike other Web apps for mobile devices, HTML5 apps for Firefox OS devices will have access to core device functions, such as the camera.