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article imageMozilla kills off Firefox OS for smartphones, refocuses on IoT

By James Walker     Feb 4, 2016 in Technology
Three years after unveiling Firefox OS for smartphones, Mozilla has called time on the struggling platform that originally aimed to compete with the likes of iOS and Android. Its lack of market share has defeated it and led the company to refocus on IoT.
Mozilla's aim of competing with the market leaders was admirable but ultimately Firefox OS didn't turn out to be a platform capable of rivalling Apple and Google. A lack of apps, limited public exposure and few phones actually on sale running the operating system have prevented it from getting established even years after its launch.
Part of the problem centred around the few phones that actually made it to sale. Mozilla concentrated on the extreme low-end of the market, preventing it from ever attracting the kind of buyer who usually shells out each year for a new iPhone. A $25 smartphone is commendable but insufficient for a company looking to convert large numbers of people to an all-new platform. For that, a complete range of devices would be required, something Mozilla and its hardware partners never really delivered.
The end of Firefox OS was officially confirmed today by Mozilla's Head of Core Contributors, George Roter. Roter thanked the community for its involvement in the open-source project but explained that playing catch-up has meant it cannot win with commercial smartphones.
He said: "We made an awesome push and created an impressive platform in Firefox OS. However, as we announced in December, the circumstances of multiple established operating systems and app ecosystems meant that we were playing catch-up, and the conditions were not there for Mozilla to win on commercial smartphones."
Contributors have expressed their upset at the announcement. Its nature as the only mobile platform to involve the community at every stage of development means many who worked on it are deeply passionate about the OS. Whereas Android is open-source but nothing more, Firefox OS gave contributors a say when planning what to work on next and deciding what order to implement new features in.
With the platform laid to rest, Mozilla's team will refocus. It intends to step up its work with the Internet of Things to make a "big impact" with innovative new product launches. Three projects are currently being considered for development of which one has been detailed publicly so far, the Mozilla SmartTV.
The TV runs its own version of Firefox OS and could prove to be a viable alternative to other smart TV operating systems such as Android TV and Samsung's Tizen. The technology isn't really mainstream yet so Mozilla may have a greater chance of success when trying to break into the market than it did with smartphones.
Roter says that "about a dozen" other Internet of Things projects are currently making their way through Mozilla for review as the company begins to push harder to make ideas reality. From later this year, the community will be able to help with the innovation process, letting volunteers help to decide what Mozilla builds next.
Firefox OS development for smartphones will cease in May 2016 with the release of the version 2.6 update. Once it has rolled out to devices, Mozilla staff will be moved away from the project to other areas of development.
Because Firefox OS is open-source, it is possible that the community will continue to work on it for a while. Without Mozilla to negotiate with hardware manufacturers, it is unlikely there will ever be another Firefox phone though, lowering the incentive to continue expanding the platform.
More about Mozilla, Smartphone, IoT, internet of things, Firefox