BARCELONA: SOFTWARE DEVELOPER Mozilla kicked off MWC by finally giving journalists hands-on time with its long awaited Firefox mobile operating system (OS).
The OS is designed to save the world of mobile internet from the tyranny of Apple and Google, which Mozilla claims presently have an unfair duopoly on the market.
Mozilla claims that Firefox OS will change this by creating a new set of open HTML5 standards for app developers that will enable them to cut ties with the Apple App Store and Google Play marketplaces and sell and develop apps on their own terms.
In attendance at the MWC Mozilla press conference, The INQUIRER pushed past the hordes and got some hands-on time with the Firefox OS running on ZTE's Open smartphone.
Testing Firefox OS on the ZTE Open, we were impressed with how user friendly it was. It features a user interface (UI) that looks a little like a cross between Meego, Symbian and iOS.
On the ZTE Open, app shortcuts were displayed in a grid format that was surprisingly free of dynamic widgets.
The UI looks a little like iOS in that it lacks a separate "app" button or menu. Instead, any apps installed on the device are automatically displayed on the main menu.
This meant that Firefox OS looks more static than the UI seen on many Android devices, which with additions like Samsung's Touchwiz skin are infested with automatically updating widgets.
On the upside, this makes Firefox OS less visually confusing and simpler to understand.
Lining the bottom of the display are shortcuts linking to the phone's call, messaging, Firefox web browser and camera.
Getting in and out of apps is also fairly intuitive, with the ZTE Open handset featuring a capacitive home button, marked with a circle icon, that brings you back to the main app screen when pushed.
HTML 5 apps
The main selling point of the Firefox OS is that it is entirely based around HTML5 for app development.
Firefox claims that the OS will offer developers a set of HTML5 APIs that will allow the OS to run any HTML5 application. This means that developers will be able to release and sell their services for Firefox OS outside of the Firefox Marketplace.
This is designed to increase interest in the OS by making it as easy and open as possible for developers to create and sell their wares on it.
Mozilla claimed the move has already sparked a great deal of developer interest in Firefox OS, and that many big name developers have already begun coding products for it.
On the ZTE Open, we spotted client apps for Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Soundcloud and MTV. Even better, we got to have a quick look at the OS Maps and camera apps.
The Firefox OS Maps app is powered by Nokia Here. This is a massive flip for Mozilla, as the service delivers great up to date maps and is far superior to Apple's and Microsoft's equivalent services.
Our only qualm with the service was that it took a while to launch on the ZTE Open, though this could be due to the dodgy WiFi signal on the handset we were using.
Flies in the ointment
Sadly, we did notice the odd bug in Firefox OS. Navigating through the menu windows, the OS often seemed to slow to a crawl, and the apps we tried would, on occasion, stall or take a moment longer to load than we'd have liked.
However, this could be because the OS is still a work in progress, or down to the low-end hardware used in the ZTE Open handset, which is designed to be as affordable as possible.
This would also explain why Mozilla refused to let us take a video of Firefox OS and practically snatched the device out of our hands the moment we began to see some performance issues.
Firefox OS is initially going to target emerging markets like China, Brazil and India with a set of ultra affordable handsets from ZTE, Huawei, Alcatel and LG.
The mobile OS has already garnered significant interest from carriers, with 17 key operators including América Móvil, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Hutchison Three Group, KDDI, KT, MegaFon, Qtel, SingTel, Smart,Sprint, Telecom Italia Group, Telefónica, Telenor, TMN and VimpelCom having confirmed that they will carry Firefox OS devices after its launch later this year.
For this reason, while we did discover the odd bug in Firefox OS during our hands-on, we are cautiously optimistic that it will be able to carve its own space in the ever competitive smartphone arena.
This is because Mozilla deserves recognition for what is trying to do with its open web standards move in Firefox OS, and we suspect that many developers sympathise with its cause.
However, we doubt that it will achieve its goal of dethroning Apple and Google any time soon, at least not in developed countries.
We're confident that Mozilla will fix all the bugs in time for the release of Firefox OS, which is set for sometime this summer. µ
Sign up for INQbot – a weekly roundup of the best from the INQ