Nick Dillon, senior analysts, Devices and Platforms, Ovum
AUSTRALIA: Much like Chrome OS in the desktop, Firefox OS is an interesting academic exercise that will test the limits of what is currently possible with mobile web technologies.
As outlined in our Devices 2020 research, Ovum believes that web technologies are the future for mobile development. However, we do not think that the web-only Firefox OS will facilitate a dramatic change in the approach to mobile application development. There is already good support for HTML5 web technologies on the existing major smartphone platforms, meaning that there is little need for another platform in order to drive their adoption forward.
Despite their shortcomings, native mobile applications currently fulfill a valuable role in the mobile ecosystem and are both understood and popular with consumers. We therefore believe that the transition to web technologies will be more gradual than the wholesale switch proposed by Firefox OS, with consumers continuing to use a mix of native and web applications rather than limiting themselves one way or another.
Another significant barrier to the success of Firefox OS will be cost. The Firefox OS devices will be targeted at emerging markets, where they will be competing with low to mid-tier Android devices. From a consumer perspective, the Firefox OS devices will offer less functionality than comparable Android devices, without access to embedded Google services and the hundreds of thousands of third-party applications available on Android devices.
In order to be competitive and attractive to users, the Firefox OS devices will therefore need to be significantly cheaper than similar Android devices. The consortium has clearly acknowledged this and Telefonica has stated that the devices will be available for $50 excluding operator subsidies. However, we find it hard to believe they will be able to achieve this price point as they will be very similar in construction to comparable $150-200 Android handsets, and it is not clear where the savings will come from to drive the cost down to this level.
The devices will still require a relatively high-end processor (the announcement pointed towards Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipsets) in order to run HTML5 web apps. Additionally, the devices will require all the other components normally found in more expensive devices, such as screens, memory, and cellular radios. Removing middleware components will free up some memory and processor cycles, but will not make a fundamental difference to the cost of the devices.