There’s a brand new mobile operating system on the horizon, but don’t expect to see it stateside anytime soon. Mozilla has officially announced their Firefox OS at Mobile World Congress, and that they’ve already partnered with 18 telecoms worldwide, along with a few hardware manufacturers to start making Firefox phones.
The Firefox OS will be a lot like other mobile operating systems – apps, social network integration, talking and texting, and all that good stuff. There a few key ways in which the Firefox OS will be distinct, and they’re related to Mozilla’s commitment to a free and open Web.
Apps will be available on the Firefox Marketplace, but they won’t be restricted to that marketplace. Mozilla is open to letting other Firefox app stores pop up, and if you just want to distribute your new Firefox app by yourself, you can do that, too. Mozilla is keeping the restrictions light to non-existent. Those new apps will be mostly in HTML5, which will be a big part of how things are done on the Firefox OS.
Maybe the most interesting feature of the nascent Firefox OS is its search feature. Entering a search term on your home screen won’t just find things that are already on your phone – it’ll bring up a bunch of one-time use apps related to that search keyword. In the video below, Jay Sullivan of Mozilla uses Skyfall as an example. Searching Skyfall brings up apps like Fandango, which you can use to immediately buy movie tickets. Think of it like this – the search is like a search engine, but instead of returning links to websites, it gives you contextual access to Firefox apps, regardless of whether or not you have installed them on your phone. You’re accessing apps like you would websites – only as you need them, and without having to store them permanently or download them.
TCL Alcatel, Huawei, LG, and ZTE are all signed on to create the first few Firefox OS devices, which means that at the start, these will probably be budget phones. That doesn’t mean they’ll be subpar – they’ll be using Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon chipsets, so they won’t be wanting for power. Mozilla has announced that when the first Firefox devices become available later this year, they’ll be sold in Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Venezuela, with new markets to come in the future. Sprint is one of the initial telecom partners, so expect that to be where you’ll first see United States Firefox phones.