ZTE and Telefonica have launched the first Firefox OS smartphone, the ZTE Open. Priced as low as $51 ($90 retail, with $39 worth of free airtime for prepaid customers), the ZTE Open is clearly designed for the mobile phone user who has never before been able to afford a smartphone. It goes on sale today in Spain, and is headed for Colombia and Venezuela this summer as well.
Mozilla’s Firefox OS is based on HTML 5, and has the potential to build a large portfolio of apps quickly because of the widespread use of HTML 5 in the developer community. “There are 3 million HTML developers around the world,” Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs said last year. “It is the language that they are speaking and when asked to choose, they choose HTML 5. HTML 5 is optimized for what the web has become today: apps, video, music, and immersive experiences.” Apps that are already part of the Firefox Marketplace include Facebook, Twitter, AccuWeather, Nokia HERE Maps, SoundCloud, Terra, Time Out, TMZ, and some Electronics Arts games.
Still, Firefox OS has a long way to go to catch up with Google’s Android operating system, clearly its main competitor in the entry-level smartphone space. At last count there were roughly 800,000 apps in the Google Play store, more than in any other app store including Apple’s iTunes.
But if Telefonica’s ZTE Open is an indicator of what’s coming, Firefox OS phones will definitely be competitive when it comes to value. The ZTE Open’s specs are comparable to those of Android phones like the new HTC Desire. The Open has a 3.5-‐inch, HVGA TFT touchscreen display and is powered by a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor. It has 256MB of RAM, a 3.2-megapixel camera, Bluetooth, A-GPS and Wi-Fi. It comes with a 4GM microSD card.
The phone is also meant to be intuitive for those who have not used smartphones before. Although many potential customers may not be used to using computers either, Mozilla has made the Firefox web search capability a central part of the OS experience. By swiping to the right on the touchscreen, the user can enter a term and get immediate search results, including videos and e-commerce options.
“We believe that smartphones need to be more open and that the web is the platform for making this possible,” said Luis Miguel Gilpérez, CEO of Telefónica España. “Consumers should not be locked to any one system but have the choice to consume the content they want and the flexibility to be able to take it with them when they change devices. This first open web device marks a significant milestone in making this possible. This is just the beginning as we plan to bring a wide range of Firefox OS devices to our customers.”
“In order for any mobile OS to gain critical mass, there needs to be a product that delights consumers, a platform that attracts and retains developers and an app ecosystem that can compete with iOS and Android,” said Jefferson Wang, partner at IBB Consulting. “Firefox OS has an entry-level international growth strategy which can help Mozilla build out these three key elements needed for a future offensive U.S. play.”
The next Firefox OS smartphone to hit the market is likely to be the Alcatel One Touch Fire, which was introduced along with the ZTE Open at Mobile World Congress. While the ZTE Open and the Alcatel One Touch Fire have both been approved by the FCC, but there is no word yet on when they might come to the United States. When Mozilla announced its roster of carrier and OEM partners for Firefox OS last year, the one U.S. carrier on the list was Sprint Nextel.