First Look at Firefox OS

21st Jul 2012
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Last week, I wrote about Mozilla's new mobile OS - Firefox OS - which was aimed as a competitor to Android, mainly aimed at the lower end of the market. When the announcement from Mozilla came, it was certain that Mozilla was very serious about the Firefox OS, as it announced tie-ups with operators and handset makers and solid timelines for the launch of Firefox OS.And on its path to launch, Mozilla have now made available developer builds of the Firefox OS for developers to play around with. Here's a first look at the newest entry into the mobile OS market.

First Impressions

Firefox OS is fast. It is really fast. Even though it was running on an emulator (rather than on a real phone), it booted up in no time, and the overall feel was very snippy and responsive. By contrast, running an Android emulator feels sluggish. I think Firefox OS is well on track on its promise to deliver a fast experience even on low end phones.


The lock screen is reminiscent of the Android ICS lock screen. You can drag the unlock icon to the right to open the launcher, or left to launch straight into the camera app. The main launcher is a collection of icons arranged on the main screen that you can swipe through, with a static set of icons on the bottom.


The Browser

Firefox OS is, of course, powered by the Firefox browser. It is the full-fledged browser, and rendered most websites I visited without any problem. The user experience is tailored to the mobile, but the browser is fully functional, supporting tabbed navigation, bookmarks, favorites, history and all the other features that we've come to expect from a modern browser. There's a separate button to open up the tabs, and the address bar doubles up as the title of the page and the search bar. The browser is predictably fast, although the navigation and scrolling were a bit buggy at times. The on-screen keyboard is large and comfortable, and even on my emulator it was snippy.

The Apps

The OS is all built on top of HTML5, and the apps are all going to be HTML5 apps. Although the OS is still very much under development, some of the webapps that I tried to use worked really well. The popular game "Cut The Rope" was mostly working, even though some levels were a bit glitchy. I tried a few others - Flipkart's HTML5 app, Cleartrip's mobile booking app and even the Economic Times news app worked just fine.

Most apps are going to be browser based, so will run inside a border-less Firefox instance. Actually, the whole launcher is HTML5 based. While there are only a few demonstration apps here, I can definitely see the potential. Most of the apps that a smartphone needs will work just fine in the HTML-5 based Firefox OS. Maybe not out of the box, but with some small tweaking, almost all apps should work fine on it. A music player, picture gallery, videos and all the standard apps that you find on any phone are present on the FirefoxOS. Actually, Firefox OS may be betting on exactly the right thing. With the cloud becoming the de-facto storage medium and "streaming from the cloud" becoming the default way to consume pictures, videos, music and more, Firefox OS may not need native apps for all of these.


Final Thoughts

The main problem most mobile OSes face is that lack of apps. To be quite honest, I was a bit suspicious when Mozilla had so confidently announced that hundreds of thousands of apps will be easily ported to Firefox OS, but after playing around the OS a bit, I'm more convinced now. It may not be trivial, but at least it is easily possible.

I don't want to comment too much on the obvious lack of polish of the OS. This is still a developer preview, and not ready for primetime. In fact, you need to compile and build the OS from source currently, so only developers even have access to it. I'm sure the look & feel and the polish of the OS will be improved upon, in time for its early 2013 launch.

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