Yet Another Mobile OS? What Now?
I have used a smartphone since 2009 when I bought an iPhone 3GS. Although I’ve since switched to an Android device, I honestly don’t know how I ever managed without one, regardless of platform. Up to now, there have been three main mobile platforms powering smartphone handsets: iOS, Android, and Windows Phone. Research In Motion’s BlackBerry could count as a fourth, but the platform is currently suffering from sparse adoption and declining market share that may make its future unclear. But however you look at it, chances are there will soon be yet another mobile platform in the mix within about a year’s time.
Enter Firefox OS, a new mobile operating system from Mozilla based on (you guessed it) the Firebox Web browser. Mozilla’s Web site claims that the new OS will offer “freedom from proprietary mobile platforms” by providing a user experience based entirely on universally-accepted Web standards, as opposed to limiting users to apps only written for a particular phone platform.
Sounds promising at first glance, doesn’t it? The trouble is, we’ve seen a company try this very thing before, and it didn’t turn out too well. Look back at that quote–“freedom from proprietary mobile platforms.” What Mozilla is essentially proposing is to have smartphones that boot the Firefox browser when you turn them on, then use that browser as the backdrop for everything the user does with the phone.
Sound familiar? If you follow emerging technology even somewhat closely, it should. In June 2011 the first batch of devices running Google’s Chrome OS hit the market. That OS is essentially nothing more than a streamlined version of the Chrome Web browser, tweaked to run on very specific hardware. It can’t run any software written for Windows or Mac OS X; instead, all its “apps” are little more than links to existing Web sites or services. Basically, a device running Chrome OS runs Google Chrome, and nothing but.
So far, the outlook has been pretty dismal for the platform. In mid-June, analysis of Web usage showed Chrome OS with a miniscule 0.0119% share of the market, even beaten by the browser shipped with Sony’s PlayStation 3 game console (0.0428%). By comparison, Mac OS X and Windows enjoy market shares of about 12.5% and 86.4%, respectively. And Chrome OS’s usage statistics haven’t changed much since then.
I admit that it might not be completely fair to compare desktop OS use with mobile devices, but at least at first glance, I don’t think Firefox OS is going much of anywhere. One industry analyst has called it “an idealistic thought experiment,” and I’m inclined to agree, at least for now. OK, Mozilla: Prove us wrong.
Luke can be reached at luke.jensen1981(at)gmail.com