Using the Firefox Open Source Phone

media_1380068794291.pngAbout two weeks ago, my iPhone accidentally went swimming in the lake near our house.

Rather than replace it immediately, I decided to try something different for a while.

I was intrigued by the new Firefox OS phone. The Firefox OS phone is entirely open source and built by Mozilla, the makers of the Firefox browser. All of the apps are built with HTML, CSS and Javascript.

Also, rather than wait in lines for hours outside a store, you can order it on eBay for $80. So, for the last week I've been using the Firefox OS phone exclusively. 

Here are some thoughts on whether it can do for mobile what platforms like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal have done for websites.

#1: Firefox OS is currently targeted at the Hispanic market

One thing to realize immediately is that the Firefox OS phone is not aiming to replace your high-end iPhone or Android. You and I are currently not the target market. 

Mozilla isn't trying to reach people that might spend $400 on an iPhone, but instead:

"Mozilla is targeting first time smartphone users in particular markets ... In the coming years, the company may begin targeting the higher-end market in the US or Western Europe, but is first focusing on gaining traction among first time smartphone users." link

The initial push for the Firefox OS was almost entirely in the Hispanic World. They launched in Colombia, Venezuela and Spain.

It's easy to see that when using the Firefox phone. For example, almost all of the reviews in the Firefox Marketplace are in Spanish. Here are the latest 4 reviews of the Twitter app, at the time of writing:

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And here's Facebook:

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There are plans for Firefox OS to move upmarket in the next couple of years. The next wave of phones will have:
 
"a dual-core processor, a bigger screen, and a revamped user experience,"
 
Remember that most disruption happens at the entry-level and spread

#2. The first Firefox OS phones are cheap

Because they're aiming for first-time users, almost everything about this first Firefox phone is cheap.

In the US the phone costs $79 on eBay and it's about the same in the UK. In Colombia it's about $100 on pre-pay or $50 on contract.

When you pick up the phone, you'll notice that the phone itself is nicely made, but plasticly.

The main impact is in the performance. The phone feels slow. I was using the Firefox Phone alongside an iPhone 3 and they felt similar.

With the Firefox phone you're getting hardware that does feel 4 or 5 years behind modern phones. Pages load slowly and users of more powerful phones will feel the need for patience when running apps.

#3. There are few apps so far

When I say "no apps", there are technically 1900 in the Firefox marketplace, but most of these are test apps.

In fact, the latest app actually is called Test App!

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Here are the most popular apps in the marketplace. I downloaded Twitter, Facebook and Wired, but beyond I was struggling to find anything useful.

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All in all, it wasn't too much fun to test these apps.

We're still in the situation of dealing with new apps on a new OS on fairly limited hardware.

#4. You should get a Firefox phone

Yes, it sounds strange after all the limitations I've mentioned above, but remember that this is the first version of the phone and it's aimed at an entry-level users.

Here's four reasons why I think you should get a Firefox phone:

  1. To experience what many potential visitors see. If you always browse the web on an iPhone 5s, you're not going to be looking at the web through the eyes of a small subset of users. Like or not, most users worldwide will be on phones like the Firefox phone.
  2. The phone is cheap. At about $80 to $100, you've got a cheap testing device.
  3. Developing and launching apps is far easy than with iOS or Android. If you know HTML, CSS and Javascript, you're ready to get started: there is official Mozilla documentation and also a free ebook from LeanPub.
  4. We should be supporting open standards wherever we find them. In fact, given the importance of mobile, it may be even more important to support open source on mobile devices, rather than just with websites. 

About the author

Steve is the founder of OSTraining. Originally from the UK, he now lives in Sarasota in the USA. Steve's work straddles the line between teaching and web development.