I had a chance to attend the Firefox OS App Day held in Bangalore, thereby getting more than a good look at Mozilla’s mobile OS efforts along with some sneak peak on some of the prototype devices. Here is a brief analysis about the OS set to release this year at the Mobile World Congress.
Smooth and Stable :
I had a chance to use few prototype devices which were on display during the event. Mind you they are not Keon and Peak model which were unveiled earlier this month.
The experience was spectacularly smooth for a piece of software which is not even officially marked stable. The app transitions, multitasking(more about it in a while), graphics everything was just smooth. This is a remarkable feat considering the fact that it’s just built using pure web technologies.
True Multitasking : Unlike in Android where by default you can only access the recently used tasks, you can truly multitask in Firefox OS. You can open the task switcher by pressing and holding the home button and close the running apps by swiping them upwards. What’s more, there is also inbuilt Garbage collection to automatically to kill unused apps and clear memory.
Affordable Devices: Firefox OS targets the entry level smartphone segment in developing markets like India, Brazil which is currently dominated by lower end (and sorry, crappy) Android phones. Expect the devices to be priced anywhere between 80$ to 150$ which will make it a no-brainer compared to all the entry level droids and Nokia feature phones.
No Vendor Lock : Mozilla promises Firefox OS devices to be open, this means users should have no problem getting updates periodically. Also this would definitely boost the number of mods these devices, thanks to the unlocked boot-loader on all the models and given the fact that the complete source is available for hackers to play with.
The Good : Developer’s Delight
Truly Open : Yes, Android is open, but as we all know, it’s not fully open. Google’s apps, which form a major chunk of the Android experience are closed and let’s not even talk about the AOSP. Firefox OS is fully open, right from Gonk : the kernel interface for Firefox OS to Gaia : the UI.
Scalable and Flexible : If you are building a good Firefox OS WebApp, then naturally you are building a solid mobile website. If you think of this from a consumer perspective, imagine all the brands who maintain a decent mobile website, having their apps on the Firefox OS Marketplace right at the launch. And mind you, these apps would nowhere be as slow as webapps in the existing mobile platforms. You can either run provide your mobile website as webapp in the Marketplace directly or perform some specific optimisations in your code for even better performance in Firefox OS.
Expect a lot of Customisability : Firefox is built on the top of Linux kernel and the entire software stack runs on the Gecko runtime. The entire UI, (even the menus, the homescreen) is rendered in HTML5 and CSS. This naturally presents incredible hackability to all of us who would wish to have our own customisations, but were previously unable to do it due to the intricacies involved.
No Root Access, No File Browser: Atleast not in the near future (or anytime) . This was a pretty big surprise. I was curious if their could be any console or terminal app for Firefox OS and the answer was a plain NO. There are no API’s to make kernel level interactions and Mozilla doesn’t even plan to roll out any in the future.
This is not to say that you wouldn’t be able to flash your device though. Just that you can not make any kernel level interactions from third party apps in Firefox OS
That’s not a big deal you would say. But here comes the real shocker. There is no file management at all and Mozilla expects users to use the Gallery and the Music instead for their file management needs. That might make sense for most of the users out there, but the geek in me definitely was disappointed.
Don’t expect a Android Killer : While Firefox OS poses a sureshot threat to lower end Android “smartphones”, the high end market literally has nothing to be afraid. The plans for the initial iterations of Firefox OS are rather humble and concentrate on providing a stable experience for the users rather than piling up on features. Definitely, it will take a long time for Firefox OS to match the feature parity of Android.
To give you an idea, the copy paste functionality is going to be implemented only in the next stable release Firefox OS 2.
Gaming on Firefox OS : Firefox OS supports WebGL, and porting over the existing games, especially non OpenGL ones will require quite a bit of work from the developer end. Will existing game developers spend their time over porting their games to WebGL? Perhaps not
WebGL gels well with Firefox OS though and it was clearly visible in the handful of WebGL demos loaded on the prototype Phone
Firefox OS presents an exciting new platform for developers to build elegant web apps which truly feel native. For consumers it’s the openness of the platform and the devices combined with the impressive performance are the qualities that are really attractive, not to mention the stellar pricing which may just kickstart a revolution in entry-level smartphone segment. Let’s wait and watch what the Mozilla devices actually brings to the table when launched in 2013.