By Barry Levine / Top Tech News. Updated January 22, 2013.
Another open-source mobile operating system is emerging. A small Spanish company has begun to sell two developer preview phones that use the new Firefox OS.
The phones are offered by a company called Geeksphone, in partnership with Spanish mobile carrier Telefonica, and they will become available next month. Firefox OS is the new platform from the Mozilla Foundation, makers of the popular browser by the same name. In a posting Tuesday on its Mozilla blog, the foundation's Stormy Peters emphasized that Firefox OS is built "entirely using open Web standards," with standards-based HTML5 being able to do such "phone things" as make the phone vibrate, make a phone call or send a text.
The appeal to developers, in the foundation's view, is that Web technologies such as HTML5 can be used to develop mobile Web apps. In fact, the organization said, "you can create an app for Firefox OS by making some small changes to your existing Web site." On other platforms, OS-specific native apps have full access to device capabilities, Web-based apps generally do not, and hybrid apps can have some access.
Boot 2 Gecko
Firefox OS, which has a Linux kernel and device drivers, was announced in February of last year as an HTML5-based operating system, and was originally called Boot 2 Gecko, a reference to Mozilla's Gecko browser engine. At the time, the Mozilla Foundation noted that the OS's essentials are comparable to what Android uses, except that there's no middleware between the OS and a browser.
Keon and Peak
The two new developer preview handsets are called Keon and Peak. The lower-end Keon uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon S1 1-GHz processor, and has a 3.5-inch HVGA touchscreen, a 3-megapixel rear camera and 4 GB internal storage. The Peak is built around the dual-core 1.2 GHz Snapdragon S4 processor, and has a 4.3-inch qHD screen, a rear 8-megapixel camera, a 2-megapixel camera on the front and 4 GB internal storage.
The two most popular mobile operating systems are Apple's proprietary iOS and Google's Android. While Android is an open-source project, its development is being driven and managed by Google. Telefonica has said that Firefox OS-based phones will cost a tenth of an iPhone, and could bring more smartphones to developing markets, such as the one it serves in Latin America.
But Michael Gartenberg, research director at Gartner, told us it's hard to envision that "there's much of a chance of mainstream acceptance" for Firefox OS-based devices. He said that it "feels like Linux for the desktop," which has fans among developers but no significant market presence.
Gartenberg noted that with iOS and Android dominating the mobile landscape, and Research In Motion struggling to build on its base with its coming BlackBerry 10 platform and devices, even the well-funded Microsoft "is struggling to make an impact" with its mobile platform.