Earlier this week, Chinese electronics manufacturer Foxconn made the news for announcing its plans to release both smartphones and tablets featuring the Firefox OS. This represents a strategy shift for the electronics giant: Now Foxconn can focus on not just manufacturing the hardware for smartphones, tablets and other devices, but can present the software as a value-added component. This might encourage more companies and brands to source tablet or other devices from Foxconn. But what does it mean for consumers?
General manager of the Innovation Digital System Business Group at Foxconn, Young Liu, sees many benefits for consumers. Because the new products run on an open source OS from Mozilla, leading open source software developer, consumers receive a greater degree of openness and flexibility. This is not a proprietary system, as both Mac and Windows OS are. While there are versions of Firefox available for Android devices, these must be installed by users and are limited in performance because they must conform to the underlying Android programming. Since open source products can be used freely and modified, users of the new Foxconn-Firefox products can make changes to the system that make it easier to use. Think of it like a jailbroken iPhone, without any of the legal conundrums iOS users face when jailbreaking their electronics.
If you think the electronics market is already oversaturated with tablets and smartphones, Firefox OSs list of supporters may change your opinion. Major companies including LG Electronics, Huawei and Qualcomm have already partnered with Mozilla. So have mobile network operators including America Movil, China Unicom, Deutsche Teleko, MegaFon, Sprint, Qtel and others. While the relative lack of U.S. carriers means that you probably won’t be playing Xbox Live games on your Firefox tablet anytime soon, that’s actually by design: These products are intended as a budget-conscious alternative to devices on the market, and they’re aimed at countries outside the U.S. Where are the first markets for these products? Eastern Europe and South America, specifically Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Spain, and Venezuela, according to Mozilla. Expect the first Foxconn-Firefox phones to hit the market sometime in 2013, with updated versions in late 2013 into 2014.
Some worry that Firefox OS will be a hard sell in an already crowded market. While the latest iPhones or Androids are too pricey for some, potential buyers can always make a bargain by choosing an older model of phone. Tablets have likewise come down in price from their initial launch, and can often be an affordable alternative to the traditional desktop or laptop. To really succeed, Firefox OS will need to court app developers who can populate the operating system’s version of an app store with apps users need and want. In short, even though Firefox has made strides and has built a coalition of powerful allies, there is a lot of work left to do.
Expect continued innovation from this partnership. If you’re interested in trying a Firefox phone for yourself, phones are not yet sold in the U.S. but they are available for order — and the price isn’t bad.