Firefox OS won't make much U.S. impact

The platform won't even debut stateside until next year, and it still has some bugs to work out

While Mozilla's Firefox OS mobile platform should make inroads in other parts of the world, don't look for it to give Google's Android or Apple's iOS a run for their money in the United States anytime soon.

In fact, the platform is not even due to be available in the States until the 2014 timeframe, Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs says. Mozilla previewed the first commercial build Sunday at the Mobile World Congress conference in Barcelona. "It is an entirely HTML-based device," for everyone around the world to participate in mobile, Kovacs said.

Analysts expect Firefox OS to be more successful in emerging markets. The price of an iPhone is out of reach in these places, says analyst Charles Golvin, of Forrester Research. Firefox OS phones can be cheaper because "all they really have to do is be able to run a browser," he says. "They don't need a whole lot of memory." In established markets, though, consumers already have seen what their friends have with iOS and Android and they will want the richer experience, Golvin adds.

Firefox OS presents a massive opportunity to reach the "second wave" of smartphone owners, who will increasingly come from emerging markets, says analyst Thomas Husson, also of Forrester. "Firefox OS has received an amazing and massive [level of] support from telcos and will be rolled out in emerging markets, starting first with Latin America. Is this sufficient to succeed? Let's not forget what Mozilla managed to achieve in the desktop PC."

In its current state, Firefox OS is not ready for prime time, stresses analyst Tony Cripps, of Ovum. "What is clear from the Firefox OS demonstration handsets that we have seen was that they are still some way from being market ready, being both slow and buggy," he says. "These issues must be overcome before Firefox OS devices find their way into consumers' hands. Even low-cost smartphones -- the primary target market for Firefox OS -- can't afford to hide behind price as a justification for poor performance."

Firefox OS will not be alone in the low-cost mobile phone market. It must vie with such contenders as Ubuntu Touch OS and Samsung Tizen. Having Web standards powerhouse Mozilla behind it, though, means the market will have to pay attention.

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