In the present smartphone dominated world, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android are the only two names that we think of when we talk about a smartphone platform, and we are deliberately leaving aside the Microsoft’s Windows platform for mobile. The reason is that it just commands a meagre 2.7% of the market shares as opposed to the 18.3% for iOS and a whopping 78% for Android. The Firefox operating system from Mozilla was starting to make some headlines, however all dreams of a third smartphone platform which would compete with iOS and Android are now literally dead.
The latest announcement, which came on the 4th of February 2016, cited that Mozilla will terminate the development of Firefox operating system version 2.6 for smartphones which is currently scheduled for a late May release. It has also announced that all staff involvement with Firefox OS development will also be ceased by end-May.
Mozilla had launched the Firefox operating system three years ago with a mindset of competing with mobile OS giants iOS and Android. However, there was a niggling fear that the immense popularity of the Android and iOS smartphone platforms would basically shut out the Firefox OS form the mobile-ecosystem. Firefox OS couldn’t attract smartphone developers, and as a result the fear soon became reality.
In the words of Mozilla’s George Rotor, “[The] circumstances of multiple established operating systems and app ecosystems meant that we were playing catch-up, and the conditions were not there for Mozilla to win on commercial smartphones.” Rotor added, “Therefore we are announcing our to end-of-life support for smartphones after the Firefox OS 2.6 release. This means that Firefox OS for smartphones will no longer have staff involvement beyond May.” True enough, since Firefox OS wasn’t quite able to create the stir needed to overthrow, or at least compete, with Android and iOS.
The end-may cut-off point came in more as a probable outcome than a surprise. This is because Mozilla, in December 2015, announced that it would shift focus of the Firefox operating system from smartphones to connected devices. Till now, the only connected device that Firefox OS can shift to is the smart TV, though Mozilla has more such projects in different stages of development.
The Firefox operating system was first launched in 2012 as an open alternative to the smartphone OS giants Android and iOS. From the very first day, Mozilla had realised that creating a niche in this utterly dominated smartphone OS market would be a tall order indeed. The basic difference between these two platforms and Firefox OS was that it was purely web based unlike the other two. So much so that even the apps opened up into websites! Even the camera app would open into a website!
Though the idea was novel, and would have changed the way we use the web, still the presentation wasn’t great. Firefox OS apps were written using standard HTML, and this meant that anyone with even a little knowledge and experience in web development could try and develop apps on the Firefox operating system. Developers never really wanted to spend too much of their valuable time in creating web-based apps for the small Firefox platform.
Though Mozilla has ceased the development of Firefox OS for the smartphone market, it will now be focussing on the market for connected devices. That would be great in a way, since shifting focus to connected devices, primarily smart TVs, might show better results. The generally crummy and laggy smart TV apps really get on the nerves of a person who is habituated to a smooth mobile experience. If Firefox does offer great smart TV apps, then that would be hugely welcomed by folks the world over.