Just when you thought the smartphone and tablet market couldn’t get any more crowded, Mozilla – the privately held creator of Firefox – has thrown its hat into the ring with new mobile devices powered by its own Linux-based operating system, Firefox OS. Will this new challenger have any impact on a market divided between two major software players – Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) – or will it burn out and fade into obscurity like Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ)’s WebOS?
How does Mozilla generate revenue?
Mozilla’s Firefox browser, which is the direct descendant of the now-defunct Netscape Navigator, accounts for 25% of the global web browser market. This is ahead of Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) Chrome’s 13% but it still trails Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) Internet Explorer’s 53% market share. In addition to Firefox, Mozilla also produces other open-source software such as the SeaMonkey browser and the Mozilla Thunderbird email client.
At Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress in February, Mozilla revealed that it had signed agreements with Alcatel Lucent SA (NYSE:ALU)’s TCL Communication Technology, LG Electronics and ZTE Corp. to manufacture the first generation of Firefox OS devices. Chinese smartphone giant Huawei is also expected to release a Firefox OS handset later this year.
All of these upcoming smartphones, aimed at emerging markets, will be powered by QUALCOMM, Inc. (NASDAQ:QCOM)’s Snapdragon mobile processors. This accelerated production schedule strongly suggests that Asian manufacturers are taking full advantage of QUALCOMM, Inc. (NASDAQ:QCOM)’sQRD (Qualcomm Reference Design) program, which provides handset manufacturers with QUALCOMM, Inc. (NASDAQ:QCOM)-based hardware templates. This reduces the development time of most handsets to two months, from start to launch – a process that originally took up to a year and a half.
Meanwhile, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s primary manufacturer, Taiwan-based Hon Hai Precision (Foxconn), recently revealed that it was teaming up with Mozilla to create the first Firefox OS tablet. This is a surprising turn of events, considering that Apple’s contracts account for approximately 60% of Hon Hai’s top line. Industry watchers have speculated that Hon Hai is attempting to diversify away from Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), which it blamed for a lower-than-expected net profit last quarter. Most of Hon Hai’s mobile products run on iOS or Android.
Firefox OS is a web-based, open-source platform, running primarily on HTML5. Since HTML5 is a common web standard across multiple platforms, Firefox OS will immediately be able to run most apps and games written in HTML5, just as software written in Oracle Corporation (NASDAQ:ORCL)’s Java can be compiled and executed across multiple desktop and mobile devices. This means that Firefox OS will have an instant software library upon launch, although the HTML5 software must be run from within a web browser. This is where Firefox shines – its entire operating system will be a web browser, which will make running these apps a seamless experience. In fact, even the smartphone’s dialer is an app coded in HTML5.
What this means for other companies
First and foremost, Firefox OS isn’t about to steal market share away from Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) or Samsung, which control the higher-end markets. Yet in emerging markets, where the Firefox browser is already well known, Firefox OS devices could effectively compete with lower-end devices fromNokia, such as the Asha 302, and upcoming ones from Research In Motion Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY). However, it is a tough, fragmented market down in fourth and fifth place – where lesser-known Linux-based products such as the Ubuntu Touch and Tizen are fighting for the remaining pieces of the market.
However, Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) might not consider Firefox OS to be a threat to its Windows Phone market, but rather an opportunity. Since Microsoft Bing currently powers Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO)! searches, and Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO) is Firefox’s default search engine, then searches through Firefox OS devices would be redirected back through Bing. This could help grow both Yahoo! and Bing’s combined 7.7% share of the global search market against Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)’s dominant 88.8%.