Mozilla Abandons Firefox OS Smartphones

Subject: Editorial, Mobile, Shows and Expos | December 9, 2015 - 07:04 AM |
Tagged: yahoo, mozilla, google, Firefox OS, Android

Author's Disclosure: I volunteer for Mozilla, unpaid. I've been to one of their events in 2013, but otherwise have no financial ties with them. They actually weren't aware that I was a journalist. Still, our readers should know my background when reading my editorial.

Mozilla has announced that, while Firefox OS will still be developed for “many connected devices,” the organization will stop developing and selling smartphones through carriers. Mozilla claims that the reason is because they “weren't able to offer the best user experience possible.” While the statement is generic enough to apply in a lot of contexts, I'm not sure how close to the center of that region it is.

This all occurred at the “Mozlando” conference in Florida.

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Firefox OS was born when stakeholders asked Mozilla to get involved in the iOS and Android duopoly. Unlike Windows, Blackberry, and other competitors, Mozilla has a history of leveraging Web standards to topple industry giants. Rather than trying to fight the industry leaders with a better platform, and hoping that developers create enough apps to draw users over, they expanded what Web could do to dig the ground out of their competitors.

This makes sense. Mobile apps were still in their infancy themselves, so Firefox OS wouldn't need to defeat decades of lock-in or orders of magnitude performance deltas. JavaScript is getting quite fast anyway, especially when transpiled from an unmanaged language like C, so apps could exist to show developers that the phones are just as capable as their competitors.

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The issue is that being able to achieve high performance is different from actually achieving it. The Web, as a platform, is getting panned as slow and “memory hungry” (even though free memory doesn't make a system faster -- it's all about the overhead required to manage it). Likewise, the first few phones landed at the low end, due in part to Mozilla, the non-profit organization remember, wanting to use Firefox OS to bring computing to new areas of the world. A few hiccups here and there added another coat of paint to the Web's perception of low performance.

Granted, they couldn't compete on the high end without a successful app ecosystem if they tried. Only the most hardcore of fans would purchase a several-hundred dollar smartphone, and intend to put up with just Web apps. Likewise, when I've told people that phones run on the Web, they didn't realize we mean “primarily localhost” until it's explicitly stated. People are afraid for their data caps, even though offline experiences are actually offline and stored locally.

The Dinosaur in the Room

Then there's the last question that I have. I am a bit concerned about the organization as a whole. They seem to be trying to shed several products lately, and narrow their focus. Granted, all of these announcements occur because of the event, so there's plenty of room for coincidence. They have announced that they will drop ad tiles, which I've heard praised.

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The problem is, why would they do that? Was it for good will, aligning with their non-profit values? (Update: Fixed double-negative typo) Or was it bringing in much less money than projected? If it's the latter, then how far do they need to shrink their influence, and how? Did they already over-extend, and will they need to compensate for that? Looking at their other decisions, they've downsized Firefox OS, they are thinking about spinning out Thunderbird again, and they have quietly shuttered several internal projects, like their division for skunkworks projects, called “Mozilla Labs.” Mozilla also has a division called "Mozilla Research," although that is going strong. They are continually hiring for projects like "Servo," a potential new browser engine, and "Rust," a programming language that is used for Servo and other projects.

While Mozilla is definitely stable enough, financially, to thrive in their core products, I'm concerned about how much they can do beyond that. I'm genuinely concerned that Mozilla is trying to restructure while looking like a warrior for both human rights and platforms of free expression. We will not see the books until a few months from now, so we can only speculate until then. The organization is pulling inward, though. I don't know how much of this is refocusing on the problems they can solve, or the problems they can afford. We will see.

Source: Techcrunch

December 9, 2015 | 10:11 AM - Posted by BBMan (not verified)

You missed it. CISA passed.

December 9, 2015 | 04:10 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

Hmm, that would be something that Mozilla would avoid, but I'm pretty sure it's just protections for voluntary disclosure, not a requirement to disclose???

December 9, 2015 | 11:22 AM - Posted by flippityfloppit...

Props on the journalistic integrity of disclosure.

December 9, 2015 | 04:07 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

Thanks. I go back and forth on whether I need to disclose that sort of stuff. I mean, volunteering for an NPO is kind-of backwards from typical concerns, but it might be useful for readers... or it might annoy them. I don't know.

December 9, 2015 | 05:58 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

How about working/volunteering towards developing a Full Linux based OS for phones and tablets, and forget the closed ecosystems Only. With Google's Android, and the phone OEMs, users are confined to only the Google/OEM cloud based services model with no other option for those that want nothing to do with the cloud.

Make a full Linux based Tablet/Phone based ecosystem and let the user download and install an Android/other run-time if they want the Android/other App/cloud ecosystems, but do not force the Android/or any other cloud ecosystem on the end user. This Cloud ecosystem lock-in monetization strategy is turning some users away from Tablet/Phone devices. Let the end users have a Fully Open OS, with the users having the choice to download whatever, or non at all, of any offered run-times and app ecosystems that the end user chooses to install.

December 9, 2015 | 06:06 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

I mostly wrote Web development tutorials.

December 9, 2015 | 11:33 AM - Posted by collie

awwwww, too bad. I have one friend with an Firefox OS phone, and it works surprisingly well on very cheap hardware. At the end of the day tho, in our current connected world standard is better than innovative.

December 9, 2015 | 11:41 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I didn't even know they had a phone OS program. It would be nice to have something not tied into advertising. A recent update to google maps caused it to not want to let me do anything without logging in. It seemed to have gotten my information from being logged in on YouTube on the same iPhone. I actually tried deleting all google apps, but as soon as I re-downloaded and opened YouTube it logged me back in. I don't know what unique identifiers they are using, but I have no way of logging out. It did not seem to want to let me use google maps without being logged in. I got multiple pop-ups about login and turning on history without only one option to choose to continue; there isn't really a point of popping up such things if you have no input. I tried going to the setting and setting it to be used without login somewhere, and it didn't work. It logged me right back in.

In a way it is more truthful, since even if I am not "logged in", they would still be tracking everything I do anyway. With auto-logging me in, at least they make it more clear that they are tracking me. Having such information is very valuable. If I use YouTube, google maps, and Chrome, then they know precisely where I am sometimes, what I search for on the web, what places I get directions to, and what I watch on YouTube. The amount of information being collected by advertising agencies is getting so intrusive to people's privacy that it seems like the data collection the NSA was doing is minor by comparison.

I have considered going full paranoid on the not tracking, but it seems very difficult to do. It is probably impossible on a smart phone. Apple is certainly tracking everything you do on your iPhone and Google is tracking everything on Android. If you use google apps on iPhone, then google gets to track you also. Smart phones give advertisers massive amounts of data due to how they are used. Most people use them for directions, looking up products and places, entertainment, etc. if you look up a restaurant, read reviews for it, and then get directions there, Google can track a lot of that and use it to determine what is effective advertising. I am tempted to stop using all Google applications. I watch too much YouTube anyway; it is mostly a waste of time.

December 9, 2015 | 11:44 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

"without only one option to choose to continue"

That was supposed to be "with only one option to choose to continue". That is, there wasn't any option to use as guest, it was just accept this login and turn on history, otherwise it just wouldn't do anything.

December 12, 2015 | 10:18 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

even google is abandoning this webapp for everything b/s. they just canned chrome OS.

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