Mozilla Abandons $25 Firefox OS Smartphone Plans, May Embrace Android Apps

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Mozilla has come some way forward after first unveiling its Firefox OS, its Web-based mobile operating system back in early 2013. After a few early partnerships with manufacturers based out of Europe and China, the non-profit company soon partnered Intex and Spice in India, launching two phones under Rs. 2,500 in India, based on its blueprint of a $25 (Rs. 1,600) smartphone, but still slightly more expensive.

Acknowledging it has some way forward in the smartphone market, the company has decided to change its stance towards Firefox OS under CEO Chris Beard and a new ‘Ignite’ initiative, revealed in a copy of a company email sent to employees on Thursday and obtained by CNET.

The new initiative will see the firm concentrate on selling a Firefox OS smartphone that provides an experience, rather than just the low price point. He added that the firm has been unable to create popularity in the smartphone segment by launching its $25 handsets. This however does not necessarily mean the firm would be aiming at premium handsets.

“We will build phones and connected devices that people want to buy because of the experience, not simply the price,” said Beard in the email. “We have not seen sufficient traction for a $25 phone, and we will not pursue all parts of the program.”

Beard in the email outlines that with its aim to further consumer adoption, building “community and influence”, direct distribution Firefox OS ‘Ignite’ builds will be given to OEMs that offer unlocked Android devices.

The Firefox OS smartphones part of the Ignite initiative will move beyond the limitations of Web apps, and include an improved ability to work offline; a better software update delivery system, and support for flip phones. Ignite would also further work on Firefox for IoT front.

As a part of the Ignite initiative and the attempt to offer customers a more attractive experience not limited by Web apps, the company is also considering bringing Android app compatibility to Firefox OS. “To bridge this app gap between user expectations and the readiness of the ecosystem, we will explore implementing Android app compatibility,” Breach said. Also, the process will take place keeping the firm’s “long-term focus on the Web.”

However, only few selected “key apps” would be debuting on the platform. The email failed to mention exactly how Mozilla plans to make Android apps compatible with the OS.

Beard added that Mozilla has taken on big giants in the business in the past, such as Microsoft and Google with its Firefox OS. He said, “Mozilla has faced this situation before, and won… Firefox won converts by providing compelling end-user value: it was clean, simple, fast, secure, and open standards based,” and it had features like tabbed browsing and pop-up blocking that people liked, according to Beard. Firefox OS likewise needs the right combination of features, apps, and pricing to attract converts despite “sophisticated competition from the most aggressive and largest technology companies in the world.”

You can read the full sent by Beard to Mozilla employees below, and do let us know what you think the possibilities of future implementations of Firefox OS smartphones and IoT devices, including Android app compatibility to sweeten deal.

Subject: Firefox OS in 2015 and Beyond

Hi all,

Firefox OS is an important part of our mobile strategy, in addition to Fennec and other initiatives. With Firefox OS we have the opportunity to demonstrate that the Web as an open, standards-based platform can provide a competitive alternative to proprietary, single-vendor platforms. This is core to who we are, and critical to the future of a healthy mobile ecosystem. By promoting choice and innovation in mobile we can help to build the Internet as a global public resource that’s open and accessible to all.

By building an OS we can “own” a platform and ensure that a free, open mobile platform always exists. This is important as it means that not only can we create a wedge in the market to keep it open, we don’t have the risk of Google, Apple or others locking us out. It also provides us a way to propose and test new Web standards, with real content and workloads.

Where are we?

Over the last three years, we have moved mountains to create interest in the commercial ecosystem (e.g. strategic partnerships with Qualcomm, Telefonica, and more) that is critical for our work to succeed. We launched phones across a wide price range, from ultra-low-cost to high-end, in dozens of countries. And we delivered first and second generation evolutions of Firefox OS as we rapidly iterated from prototype to product. We’ve proven that the core of web technology can be a strong, viable platform for mobile.

This was an immense accomplishment, only possible through the herculean efforts of Mozillians (i.e. staff and volunteers) around the world, and provides us with a good foundation on which to build.

Now it is time to take the next step. We will use this foundation to build products with partners that help people take control of and explore the full potential of their online lives, while empowering people with technology, know-how and opportunity to advance the Open Web. That will require bringing more of Mozilla and the Open Web to consumers than just the Web technologies upon which our products are built.

We will seek out opportunities that align with our relentless pursuit of the Mozilla mission, our strategy of building great products and empowering people, and the impact we aim to have on the world. And we will say “no” to opportunities, even if they make good business sense, if they do not further our mission.

Historical Parallels

The first few years of Firefox browser development weren’t even on Firefox: they were on Gecko, an all-new modern layout engine and browser infrastructure at the time. Today, with Firefox OS, we have succeeded in developing an all-new modern smartphone OS infrastructure. We have created the raw material that can be used by ourselves and others to create products and services that end users will want. This represents a significant investment over several years, and enables us to penetrate the mobile market.

Just as a strategy of offering the lowest price browser would have failed, especially against Microsoft, the strategy of merely offering the lowest price smartphone won’t succeed. It’s not possible for a small vendor to compete only on price with an army of titans. It’s always cheaper to order things by the million than by the thousand.

Firefox won converts by providing compelling end-user value: it was clean, simple, fast, secure and open standards based and offered innovations (e.g. tabbed browsing, pop-up blocking, etc.) that advanced the power of the online experience while at the same time reducing some of its annoyance. Likewise, for Firefox OS to win converts, it needs to offer compelling advantages to users (i.e. the right combination of product features, desired apps, pricing, etc.) that will drive people to seek out our products, especially in the face of sophisticated competition from the most aggressive and largest technology companies in the world.

And in the same way that Firefox advanced the Mozilla mission by helping secure an open Internet for everyone, Firefox OS must also advance the Mozilla mission.

The Next Phase: Ignite Initiative

We will consolidate all of our development efforts (including previous v2 feature work, v3 platform work, IoT explorations, Lightsaber, and more) around a new core development initiative. Our intent is to focus our time and energy on fully unlocking our full product potential and mission alignment.

The Ignite initiative will focus on building a unified product experience and developer platform that exemplifies our values and the best of the Web. We will build the ultimate phone experience for the hundreds of millions of people who love Firefox, who care about having a secure, trusted, independent alternative that is hackable, customizable and powerful as an open platform for innovation.

Like we did with Firefox on the desktop, we will build this core product experience ensuring that it is clean, modern and easy to use, and yet powerful through its extensibility, clever design and features that put users in control of their experience. We will enable the mobile equivalent of “View Source”, revamp our security model to expose more of the new mobile Web APIs to developers and enable an extension mechanism to add to the user interface and phone capabilities.

This will be the phone that you want to use, and will use every day. We will activate our full community to participate in building this mobile experience, and use it as the basis for delivering the next generation of Firefox OS devices to the world, from the first time smartphone buyer to the technically sophisticated early adopter over time.

We will provide direct distribution of Ignite builds to early adopters with existing unlocked Android devices, as part of our new development model to build community and influence. And we will resource dedicated product development and release teams to build products based upon the Ignite core to address specific market opportunities (e.g. entry-level smartphones, smart TVs, etc.) that we will then distribute through our partners.

To accomplish this, we will embrace a new set of Strategic Design Principles:

1) We will build phones and connected devices that people want to buy because of the experience, not simply the price.

2) We will focus on depth first vs. breadth first. Our goal will be to on achieve real meaningful success and significant traction within our target market segments. We won’t allow ourselves to be distracted, and we won’t expand to new segments until significant traction is demonstrated. (It’s important that we establish a beachhead to build from, and that we’re following through all the way from delivering the initial product to achieving real market success and end-user delight and advocacy.)

3) We will build products that feel like Mozilla. We must define, build and own the product experience to ensure it delivers upon our brand promise and principles. This is critical to ensure that we’re building product expertise and that we’re able to deliver ever more value to our end-users and activate other distribution partnerships to reach even more people.

4) We will deliver compelling content and app experiences that exceed consumer expectations. We will continue to invest in Web platform capabilities and programs to incentivize developers to build for the Web. And to bridge this app gap between user expectations and the readiness of the ecosystem, we will explore implementing Android app compatibility, within a framework that keeps our long-term focus on the Web as the platform across desktop, mobile and connected devices. This mirrors our earlier strategy with Firefox in the face of Internet Explorer market dominance, and we believe this is a necessary step to the web flourishing as a mobile ecosystem.

5) We will ensure that when you buy a Firefox OS-powered phone you’re joining our global community. Empowering people with technology, know-how and opportunity is key to our success, and we must provide product experiences that invite users into our community from enabling people to hack and customize their phone experience to providing local engagement for support, education and more.

6) We will ensure that the products we build are timely, technically excellent and high quality. In order for our products to be great and loved by people they be available when and where they expect them, and they must meet or exceed their expectations in terms of performance and reliability, at all price points. We must aim to build products that we’re proud of.

These principles come out of discussions with many of you and the learnings from the v3 iteration process, as well as our understanding of the industry. We want to spend some time reviewing these together and then declare them part of our official working plan. We can use these to align our strategy and approach with the Mozilla mission and to evaluate product opportunities.

What’s next?

We will immediately begin work on consolidating our product and development roadmap as part of the Ignite initiative. This includes the already identified v3 architecture and platform work (e.g. service workers, revamped updates, etc.) with an initial focus on performance and stability.

We will put our best foot forward. As with any new major product or platform, the 2.0 version runs circles around the 1.0 version. We will focus on technologies and business decisions to aggressively move our OEM partners to use our latest releases only.

We will ship v2.2 and all pending work to deliver entry-level smartphones with our key partners. Additional appropriate feature work will be rolled into Ignite. v2.2 will be maintained as a long-lived branch with security and stability updates only.

We will reconsider the ultra-low-cost smartphone program (e.g. Tarako) We have not seen sufficient traction for a $25 phone, and we will not pursue all parts of the program. We will focus on efforts that provide a better user experience, rather than focusing on cost alone.

We will eat our own fox food. It’s incredibly hard to build, make decisions and provide feedback on a product you don’t use every day. A key part of the Ignite program will be empowering all Mozillians to actively participate in its development. While we won’t be able to live and breathe on each and every target device for our core product and technology, we can on phones that are powerful enough for each of us to make our primary phone.

We will dive deep into fully exploring the feature phone opportunity identified earlier this year. We need to identify a Mozilla product that we are proud of that fulfills our strategic design principles and that carriers are eager to ship.

We will continue explore IoT and connected device opportunities. We need to fully explore the opportunity to deliver product and platform value to end-users and developers in these emerging device categories.

We will aggressively invest in the Firefox OS opportunity. We will invest the necessary financial resources required to accomplish this new focused plan while ensuring we have clear line of sight to return on that investment, especially in terms of the Mozilla mission impact.

Onwards and Upwards

Changing the world is often glamorized. But at its heart, it’s very hard work with an unpredictable path. I’m very aware of the stress all Mozillians, particularly those closely associated with Firefox OS, have endured the last few years. Anyone who thought it would be easy to take on, not only the three most formidable players in the tech industry, but in any industry, surely has learned otherwise.

But Mozilla has faced this situation before, and won. This is what we do: take on and triumph when pretty much everyone from competitors and pundits, to trolls and more think we’re crazy.

Firefox OS is critical to ensure the Web remains the single greatest public resource the world has ever known. Please join me in the next phase of the fight.

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