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You Won’t Be Reading on a Firefox Phone Any Time Soon

spice-fire-one-mi-fx-2Mozilla has announced the end of its years-long flirtation with smartphones running Firefox OS. The news broke earlier today at Mozilla’s developer event in Orlando, Mozlando, and was confirmed to TechCrunch in a statement.

"We are proud of the benefits Firefox OS added to the Web platform and will continue to experiment with the user experience across connected devices. We will build everything we do as a genuine open source project, focused on user experience first and build tools to enable the ecosystem to grow," said Ari Jaaksi, Mozilla’s SVP of Connected Devices.

He added "Firefox OS proved the flexibility of the Web, scaling from low-end smartphones all the way up to HD TVs. However, we weren’t able to offer the best user experience possible and so we will stop offering Firefox OS smartphones through carrier channels."

First unveiled in 2013 (a few years after competing Chrome OS devices), Firefox OS was intended to be a competitor to iOS and Android that would run open-source software on low-end hardware, giving device makers and telecoms in developing countries a cheap alternative.

Alas, that never happened. Some 25 Firefox OS Smartphones have been produced, as well as a couple tablets, but according to IDC Firefox OS smartphones never amounted to more than a fraction of one percent of the market.

Sales were poor in large part because Firefox OS got such a late start compared to iOS and Android. Firefox OS was never able to match the breadth and quantity of apps developed for Android, and Mozilla’s focus on web apps over native certainly didn’t help. And with Android able to run on the same cheap hardware, the writing was on the wall.

Just to be clear, today’s news doesn’t mean Firefox OS is completely dead; Mozilla has said that it will continue to experiment with Firefox OS on connected devices like SmartTVs, dongles, etc. But it does look like your chances of carrying around a Firefox OS smartphone just got a little thinner.

And of course development of the Firefox web browser continues apace. In fact, just yesterday Mozilla announced Focus by Firefox, its take on content blocking for iOS 9.


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jjj December 8, 2015 um 4:15 pm

I wouldn’t be so sure.
"we will stop offering Firefox OS smartphones through carrier channels."
Not offering phones through carriers doesn’t mean not offering phones at all and the wording is very unlikely to be accidental.

Frank December 8, 2015 um 4:59 pm

There wasn’t room for another mobile OS for smartphones, I was surprised it took Mozilla so long to find that out.

Nate Hoffelder December 8, 2015 um 5:23 pm

@ Frank

Indeed. Even Blackberry was crowded out of the market.

ralphg December 8, 2015 um 5:12 pm

Dear Nate,

I read your article on my Firefox phone. See @upfrontezine on Twitter.

Nate Hoffelder December 8, 2015 um 5:40 pm

@ ralphg

LOL, that will teach me to not use hyperbole.

BTW, that was a good point you made about Chrome-Android merger and how it relates to Firefox OS. I RTed it.

jjj December 10, 2015 um 1:58 pm

Quote from a comment here
crystall Dec 10 09:19 AM
"(disclaimer: I work for Mozilla)
Actually Firefox OS development on phones it’s going ahead and we’ll be supporting a far larger number of phones than we ever did in the coming months. What’s being stopped is direct cooperation with OEMs and carriers to create commercial devices.
If you wonder why this was not explained clearly in the announcements, well, we’re wondering the same thing. It seems we’re really bad at communicating stuff."

So my assumption was right and the press got carried away. This is good because it’s likely to favor the users (more access,less spyware) instead of the carriers.

Nate Hoffelder December 10, 2015 um 2:03 pm

Thanks, jjj!

In all honesty, I read the statement again and I still think it says they were giving up on Firefox smartphones. This was not clearly communicated.

jjj December 10, 2015 um 3:01 pm

They are distancing themselves from carriers and likely they wanted to do it without explaining why. Saying that carriers are ruining the OS and users hate it wouldn’t be very elegant. At least that’s what i am assuming. Likely the cost of developing dedicated hardware was a factor too. When it comes to corporations, the wording is often very important and the devil is in the details.

We’ll see what they do,maybe they release ROMs for many popular devices (like the comment i quoted suggests),maybe they work with some phone makers, no real clue.

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