Smartphone makers and developers line up for Mozilla's Firefox OS phone

Sony reveals Firefox OS ambitions as Mozilla gains support from more developers and operators

Sony has joined the growing list of hardware vendors at least considering cranking out a smartphone running Firefox OS, while Twitter and Facebook have revealed plans to offer an app groomed for the OS. The backing of well-known tech companies may be heartening for supporters of the open source movement in general and of Mozilla specifically, but those who live in the United States may have to wait at least a year for a Firefox phone to officially reach American shores.

Mozilla previewed the first commercial build of its Firefox OS at Mobile World Congress this past weekend, announcing several operator and smartphone rollout plans on Sunday. Firefox OS is an HTML5-centric platform designed to deliver software as Web apps, and Mozilla is pitching the OS as a superior alternative for low-end smartphones in developing markets, with a price point of around $100, according to Telefónica.

Sony raised the possibility of developing a Firefox OS phone yesterday as part of a multiyear commercial partner agreement with Telefónica. "Our engineers are now working with Firefox OS Mobile and HTML5, evolving technologies that show great potential," said Bob Ishida, deputy CEO for Sony Mobile Communications. "In addition, we continue to work with our operator partners, including Telefónica, on a development project with an ambition to bring a product to market in 2014."

While Sony's announcement wasn't entirely committal, other vendors have been more vocal. Earlier this year, Mozilla partnered with Telefónica and Geekphones to launch a couple of developer smartphones. The Keon is powered by a 1GHz processor and has a 3.5-inch touchscreen and a 3-megapixel camera. The Peak is more powerful with its dual-core 1.2GHz processor. It also has a 4.3-inch screen and an 8-megapixel camera on the back and a 2-megapixel camera on the front. Both models have 4GB of integrated storage that can be expanded using a MicroSD card. They can connect to the Internet using HSPA or 802.11n, and they have GPS, as well as a number of sensors.

ZTE, meanwhile, officially announced its first phone on Monday. Called the Open, the device has 3.5-inch screen and a 3.2-megapixel camera, and it's powered by a 1GHz processor from Qualcomm. There is also 512MB of integrated storage and 256MB of RAM.

ZTE will be among the first hardware vendors to offer Firefox phones starting this summer, alongside Alcatel One Touch, LG Electronics, and ZTE. Huawei Technologies will also come out with products later this year. In addition to the phone makers, 18 operators are lining up behind Firefox OS, including América Móvil, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Japan's KDDI, Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, and Telenor.

Besides garnering support from hardware vendors and operators, Firefox OS has been receiving backing from application developers. Mozilla has announced the creation of the Firefox Marketplace, from which users will be able to snag apps for games, news and media, business, and productivity. According to Mozilla, "these apps are tied to you and your online identity to take across devices and platforms."

The Firefox Marketplace will include such apps as AccuWeather, Airbnb, Box, Facebook, Nokia HERE, Pulse News, SoundCloud, SporTV, Terra, Time Out, and Twitter; it can be previewed on Firefox for Android Aurora and will be offered with the first Firefox OS phones to launch later this year.

Mozilla has made available a host of tools for developers seeking to contribute to the Firefox Marketplace, including a Firefox OS Simulator that shows how apps will appear when running on Firefox OS. The platform gives Web developers a mobile environment dedicated to apps created with just HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. There are two types of Firefox OS apps: packaged and hosted. Packed apps are essentially zip files containing all of an app's assets: HTML, CSS, JavaScript, images, manifest, and so on. Hosted apps are run from a server at a given domain, similar to a standard website.

As to where the first Firefox phones will land, they'll first launch in Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Spain, and Venezuela. Firefox phones may not materialize in the United States until 2014. "Most of [Firefox OS's] growth is going to come from the emerging world," Kovacs said. "That's today where the Firefox OS devices will largely be aimed. As follow-on versions come, we'll ascend to the rest of the world and to different levels of consumer," said Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs.

Cheng Lixin, CEO of ZTE's U.S. unit, told Bloomberg earlier this year that the company is "closely monitoring the ecosystem and how it evolves. If that is ready and if consumer studies support that data, then we may launch one in U.S. also this year."

This story, "Smartphone makers and developers line up for Mozilla's Firefox OS phone," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

How to choose a low-code development platform