Move over Android? Telefonica prepare to release Firefox OS

by Dale Wright

Buying a new smartphone? Can’t decide between Google’s Android operating system and the iPhone? If your contract is up for renewal early next year, hold that thought: you might want to consider the newest entrant to the mobile market, Firefox OS.

The CEO of Telefonica, the company that owns O2, said last week that Firefox OS will offer all the pros of Android at a cheaper price. It all sounds pretty exciting, and it could bring the price of smartphones crashing down.

Firefox OS
Photo from Rob Hawkes

Firefox OS – formerly known as the Boot to Gecko project – is actually built on Android, so it will be fairly easy for any Android app developer to modify their app for the new Firefox alternative. Telefonica say that 75% of Android apps are already built in HTML5; this percentage will probably rise further before it’s released.

The operating system runs in a similar way to Google’s Chrome OS: it’s actually a browser which sits on top of Android to provide a completely integrated experience. Firefox OS smartphones will include social networking, a phone, a messaging service, Google Maps and all the other things your current mobile has. The key difference is that Firefox OS will be specifically designed for inexpensive handsets at the cheaper end of the market.

Firefox OS is also going to be completely open source. Instead of having a closed app market, everything will be launched from within the browser, and in theory, anyone will be able to develop for it.

The first Firefox OS tablets and smartphones will be made by ZTE and Alcatel. In other words, it’ll be championed by manufacturers who specialise in cheap handsets and tablets. Both companies will use Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors. These new devices will launch in Brazil first and won’t be on sale in the UK until early 2013. By then, we’ll have had the chance to purchase the iPhone 5, so we’ll have to wait and see how well Firefox OS competes with the updated Apple smartphone.

Firefox OS could offer cash-strapped gadget lovers a realistic alternative to shelling out hundreds of pounds for a capable smartphone. Would you consider selling your expensive handset and going for a budget model?