Foxconn Technology Group, best known as the go-to maker of Apple’s iPads and iPhones, said Monday it had embraced Mozilla’s Firefox OS and would use the mobile platform on a raft of new devices, including a tablet it showed off at the Computex show now under way in Taiwan.
The company also demoed several smartphones running the Firefox OS and announced that it would make devices running the open software in eight categories, ranging from smartphones and tablets to laptops, TVs and outdoor signage.
“Currently, Foxconn is executing on a vision of ‘eight screens, one network and one cloud’ with all our strength,” said Young Liu, the general manager of Foxconn innovation Digital System Business Group.
“Besides the native advantages of hardware manufacturing, Foxconn is also developing a brand new integrated approach to providing hardware, software, content and services,” he added.
Foxconn is apparently working on five devices with Mozilla.
Coming This Summer
Based on Linux and the Gecko layout engine, the software’s roots lie in the Boot to Gecko project set up two years by a group of programmers at the Mozilla Foundation to create a standalone mobile operating system for the open Web. B2G used the Android kernel, drivers, the GNU C library and other technologies.
Developers built prototype APIs for exposing device and OS capabilities to content such as telephony, SMS, cameras, USB, Bluetooth and near field communication — the technology used in mobile wallets — among other things.
Any modifications made to the user interface and any applications created to run on Firefox OS are Web pages that have enhanced access to a mobile device’s hardware and services.
Firefox OS can be ported to most recent ARM-based mobile devices.
Mozilla claims the Firefox OS is getting support from numerous manufacturers and telecom service providers worldwide. The first Firefox OS devices will be released this summer, Mozilla said.
‘Promoting Interface Standards’
“This is interesting, but there are still more questions than answers at this point,” Jeff Orr, a senior practice director at ABI Research, told TechNewsWorld.
The Firefox OS and browser are creating “an ecosystem where you truly can have anybody and everybody chip in,” Orr said.
The value of HTML5 devices brought out by organizations such as the Mozilla Foundation and the Linux Foundation is “not to overthrow Apple or Google; it’s in promoting interface standards that the larger companies may be holding back,” he explained.
The larger question, however, is “the rate of innovation and the ability of the Mozilla and Linux Foundations to be the shepherds of innovation going forward which, in turn, forces mainstream providers to adopt it.”
A Question of Apps
Indeed, “the carriers are always complaining that they want another source and how it’s difficult to go up against iOS and Android,” Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research, told TechNewsWorld.
Foxconn is going to offer devices running Firefox OS together with services, software and content, and that means it’s “basically setting up a new carrier in the market, similar to what Amazon’s doing for the Internet today,” McGregor pointed out. “I can see a bank offering Foxconn-branded phones or servers.”
However, devices running the Firefox OS will have to go up against the massive number of apps available on the iOS and Android platforms because “what’s important to consumers is the applications they can use on the phone,” McGregor said.
That means the devices “will be limited to people willing to take a chance, and typically they’ll be people on the lower end of the market spectrum who don’t expect too much, or are in lower-cost markets,” he added.
Asia and Africa are likely candidates, Orr speculated.
In any case, noted McGregor, there’s also the possibility that the move “is going to raise some concerns among Foxconn customers that it may be utilizing some of the technology it’s making for them and may be competing with them.”