Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Mozilla's new phone OS to slash smartphone costs

Mozilla's new smartphone operating system, codenamed the "Boot to Gecko" project, will entice new users by offering them a smartphone at significantly reduced rate compared to the Android or Apple based alternatives. In fact Mozilla are claiming that the new phones could be "10 times cheaper" than an iphone, but how is Mozilla (and indeed the mobile phone manufacturers) able to make such a bold claim?

The proposed platform, which is expected to start shipping on it's first devices before the end of the year (2012), is expected to be totally reliant on running everything from the web and cloud based storage. At present it is planned that all of the phone functions, including making phone calls and texting would be web based. This eliminates the need for pre-installed software which require more memory and a faster processor to run, both of which are expensive elements of a smartphone. The result is that the phones will be made with lower specifications and thus, in theory, reducing the cost of the phone.

Mozilla have also declared that the project will be fully open source in order to encourage more community development and involvement from an early stage. Announcing this at an early stage is a smart move as it should get developers working on applications now, resulting in a decent number of apps being available when they start shipping on mobile devices later on this year (2012). This will certainly appeal to the niche open source market who are still calling out for a truly free and open phone operating system.

So far the early signs are promising, a quick system that is truly open source and for a fraction of the price. However there is one thing that could hinder the spread of this phone, even for potential customers that want it: mobile internet connectivity.

Whilst this is great in many cities around the world, a lot of people outside of the main cities can look up web pages on their mobile, however this is at a speed that is slower than the old 56K modems. I'm not talking about in some hidden places in the mountain range of Tibet or a community tucked away in the desert in Sudan. Take the UK as an example. There is good to excellent cell phone coverage throughout the entire country from John O'Groats to Lands End. However outside of most cities the mobile internet connectivity is truly awful. I can imagine that this is similar in vast areas of the world, great in the cities, but once you venture outside of the city limits the service will drop at an alarming rate.

Will this be the open smartphone OS that the community is crying out for? The signs look promising, but if your not in the city then, at the moment, the best hope for an open future may be to keep an eye on WebOS or Tizen.

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