Smartphone software: Can Mozilla take on the big guns?

The trio of technology giants – Apple, Google and Microsoft – may be ploughing billions of pounds into trying to win the battle for the most used mobile operating system.

But Mozilla, the non-profit organisation behind Firefox, the open source web browser, is not letting that put it off throwing its own hat into the ring.

First glimpses of Mozilla’s own smartphone software emerged this week and users can now download early versions of the system to test.

Mozilla is dipping its toes in the waters of smartphone operating systems as its share of the desktop market continues to slip, with Chrome now the world’s most popular web browser. It’s easy to understand why Mozilla wants to take a slice of the market, with smartphones and tablets now widely considered to be the most important computing platforms for the future.

Like Android, Mozilla’s Firefox Mobile OS, is based on the Linux operating system, which anyone can contribute to or adapt because of its free source code. Already Mozilla has won support for its plans from mobile networks, announcing big names across the world including Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Sprint, Smart, Teleno, Telecom Italia and Telefónica are all on board.

Mozilla is hoping to cash in on opportunities around the developing world where affordable Android handsets are just starting to reach the market, with Apple and Microsoft available only for those with very deep pockets.

The organisation’s chief executive Gary Kovacs, said his aim was to “deliver a compelling smartphone experience that anyone can use.”

The idea is that the optimization of the platform for entry-level smartphones, and the removal of unnecessary middleware layers will allow mobile operators to offer richer experiences to their customers at a range of price points. This will include the lower end of the smartphone price range, which will help drive further adoption across developing markets.

Commenting on the announcement of the Firefox OS, Matthew Key, chairman and CEO of one of the companies backing the new system, Telefónica Digital, said: “Firefox OS will bring a better smartphone experience to a higher proportion of the population at a lower cost. This is crucial for us to accelerate the adoption of smartphones in developing markets. The breadth of support for this initiative across the industry makes it clear that there is an opportunity in the market for a new, open mobile ecosystem.”

So, while it seems impossible for Mozilla, with its revenues of around £77m to compete with the big three, who between them have yearly sales of around £130bn, in the UK and US markets, it may be the organisation can make good progress in developing markets.

The very first Firefox Mobile OS handsets are due to be released in Brazil early in 2013 with a roll out across other countries following later that year.