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Telefónica Launches First Consumer FirefoxOS Device

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Telefónica has launched the ZTE Open, the first consumer-oriented mobile phone running Mozilla's fully web-based FirefoxOS. The ZTE Open sells as a €69 prepaid phone that comes with €30 and is aimed at the low-end market. Telefónica will launch more FirefoxOS phones in other markets over the coming weeks. Other operators will launch FirefoxOS-based phones later this year.

FirefoxOS, also known as Boot to Gecko (B2G), is Mozilla's entry into the mobile phone operating system market. The operating system is fully open source and developed in cooperation with large mobile operators including Telefónica, Deutche Telecom and Telenor, and is fully based on web technologies. Unlike other open source operating systems like Android, FirefoxOS is developed fully in the open. The main source code repositories are hosted on Github. Anybody who's interested in contributing can pick up a bug from its bugzilla project, and issue a pull request to get code into the next shipping version of the operating system.

Architecturally, FirefoxOS consists of three layers:

  • Gonk is the infrastructural level of FirefoxOS based on the Linux kernel. It shares a lot of code with Android and it handles all interaction with the hardware.
  • Boot2Gecko is the layer that consists of Mozilla's Gecko rendering engine, as well as all HTML5 technologies and device APIs exposed as JavaScript APIs, including NFC, bluetooth, telephony, web activities, alarms, payment and so on.
  • Gaia is the user interface layer that is implemented 100% using HTML5, CSS and JavaScript. It consists of all of FirefoxOS' core applications, such as the home screen, browser, dialer, SMS application, calendar and email application.

Developing software for FirefoxOS is like developing web applications for any mobile phone. While FirefoxOS supports some APIs that are not yet supported by non-FirefoxOS phones, the goal is to eventually get those APIs to be adopted everywhere. The thinking is that in web development, progressive enhancement is considered good practice anyway, and JavaScript makes it easy to do feature detection. Therefore building mobile web applications that work on FirefoxOS, but just as well on Android and iOS, perhaps minus some features that deeply integrate into the operating system, is encouraged. Mozilla's goal is to improve the status quo of mobile web development across the board, not just on FirefoxOS.

The first FirefoxOS devices are aimed at emerging and low-end markets. The goal is to provide the full web experience on cheap hardware, that previously often came with out of date software and poor-quality browsers. Due to this positioning, the experience may not compare favorably when compared to high-end iOS or Android devices on the market today. The goal is to target higher-end markets targets in the future, but to first focus on low-end devices such as the ZTE Open.

As FirefoxOS devices are now available on the consumer market, for mobile web developers it can be worthwhile to verify that mobile web applications work well on the platform. For this purpose, a FirefoxOS simulator is available as a Firefox extension. Beside the now launched ZTE Open, there are also two developer devices available from Geeksphone.

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