The main player of the browser wars of the 90s and 2000s – Microsoft’s Internet Explorer – was an open source browser that was locked out by Netscape in the David and Goliath war against Firefox.
Ten years later, another software war began – Microsoft again took part with Windows Mobile, but in this case the Goliath was the leader in Nokia Symbian. You should know the two Davids that you took on – Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android project.
However, today’s story is about Firefox OS, developed by Mozilla, the same community that has been working on the Firefox browser since the late 90s. Mozilla wanted to bring its principles of distribution, security, and privacy to the smartphone market, and some smartphone makers embraced a new alternative to Android.
The first phones came out in 2013, Geeksphone Keon and Peak. These very affordable (€91 and €149) devices were aimed at developers while still running an incomplete version of the OS. It was powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon chipsets (S1 for the Keon and S4 for the Peak) with only 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage.
In the year 2013 saw some major players release their own Firefox OS phones. The alcatel One Touch Fire (made by TCL) and the ZTE Open came out in July. Like the Kion, they ran on the S1 chipset and had less RAM (256 MB) and a smaller 3.5-inch 320 x 480 pixel screen (hey, that was good enough for the original iPhone in 2007).
LG Fireweb has completed the year. Although it had a large 4-inch screen (320 x 480 pixels) and 512 MB of RAM, it was still an entry-level device. This was part of the plan, Firefox OS wanted to be accessible to everyone and that would prevent high prices. Everyone who wasn’t too busy with Android was already trying to build Windows Phone and didn’t have time for another project.
alcatel One Touch Fire • ZTE Open • LG Fireweb
Before we continue, let’s talk about Firefox OS. As the name suggests, Firefox was used as a web browser rather than something based on WebKit (like both Apple Safari and Google Chrome).
But it was more than that – iOS and Android have their own user UI tools that can be used to build apps. That makes the apps not portable and you need to learn new tools if you want to make an app.
Like Android, Firefox OS used the Linux kernel. In fact, Mozilla was able to adopt the code for Android phones and hit the ground running. This includes things like Android’s Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL), which bridges the gap between platforms – most FFOS phones ran on Snapdragons, but not all (for example, a Geeksphone used an Intel Atom Z chip, remember those?). If you want to know more about the platform, you can read our review of Firefox OS from 2014 – what it uses instead of internal details.
Alcatel ( TCL ) and ZTE are the main hardware partners of the Firefox operating system for devices such as the Fire S and OpenL, which are in the mid-range. Huawei in 2010 It dipped its toe in 2014 with the Huawei Y300II.
alcatel Fire S • ZTE Open L • Huawei Y300II
There were smaller devices like the alcatel Pixi 3 (3.5) with 3.5 inches and some tablets like the alcatel Fire 7 (its 7 inch display had a resolution of 540 x 960px which was hard on the eyes).
alcatel Pixi 3 (3.5) Firefox • alcatel Fire 7
Firefox OS also arrived in Japan as LG made another foray – the LG Fx0 was designed for FDDI by Tokujin Yoshioka. It was a curious device with transparent outer panels. And it was the most high-tech FOS phone ever – a decently fast Snapdragon 400 chipset, 1.5GB of RAM, 16GB of storage and a 4.7-inch IPS LCD with 720p resolution. It retails for JPY 50,000 ($415/€340). It made it the most expensive Firefox device at the time.
These 2015 releases also marked the end of the road for Firefox OS. Mozilla officially announced its demise in December 2015. None of their phones were top sellers despite being reasonably priced (or maybe because of their rock-bottom specs).
Before we talk about life after death, we want to quickly mention a few oddball tools based on Firefox OS. A Kickstarter project called Matchstick TV attempted to build a Chromecast competitor. That ended in failure due to problems with DRM (which is essential for streaming).
Matchstick TV, the failed Firefox OS-powered Chromecast competitor
VIA made two single-board computers (think Raspberry Pi) called Rock and Paper. Panasonic has released a smart TV (CX700) based on the OS.
Panasonic CX700 was a Firefox OS Smart TV.
The Firefox browser was originally known as the Phoenix, a name symbolic of the mythical firebird that rose from the ashes of the old world (as seen rising from the ashes of Netscape Navigator). This was later changed (due to a trademark dispute with BIOS maker Phoenix Technologies) to Firebird (but this name clashed with another company). Finally, the reborn browser was called Firefox and the red panda became its logo.
Like its namesake browser, Firefox OS is reborn from the ashes. After Mozilla left, a community was formed to continue developing the “B2G OS” (Boot 2 Gecko, Gecko is the layout engine of Firefox.) This later served as the basis for KaiOS.
ZTE continues its work on Open Devices with a significant involvement in the project. KAOS should recognize you from the abandoned Nokia devices – Nokia 8110 4G, 6300 4G and 2720 V Flip.
Nokia 8110 4G • Nokia 6300 4G • Nokia 2720 V Flip
Another familiar face is back with the likes of alcatel 3088, alcatel Go Flip 3 and Go Flip V.
alcatel 3088 • alcatel Go Flip 3 • alcatel Go Flip V
Interestingly, KAOS has spawned a sub-genre of rugged phones like the Nokia 800 Tool, Cat B35, Energizer E282 SC and Plum RAM 9.
Nokia 800 Strong • Cat B35 • Energizer E282SC • Plum RAM 9
Indian carrier Jio used Chaos for the original JioPhone and JioPhone 2, though moving away from it for the Android-based Pragati OS.
Jio Phone 2
Millions of KaiOS phones have been sold – as of February 2018, this number was 30 million. Unfortunately, KaiOS does not support the open nature of Firefox OS and some components are closed source. KAOS has never surpassed Firefox OS’s preference for low-end devices, again, that’s the whole point of the platform – to power even the cheapest phones for Android G.
Say what you will about it, but KaiOS is the most successful Firefox OS ever. Has Mozilla given up recently? Or can’t find the right hardware partners? Now it’s okay Android win and it’s. of Choice of Open Source Phone OS.
Firefox OS was not the only smartphone operating system based on web technologies, and it was not the first. We’ve previously looked back at Palm’s webOS, whose interface was ahead of its time, but which was short-lived as a smartphone operating system. After a brief stint at HP, it’s now the operating system that powers LG smart TVs (LG has never made a smart TV with Firefox OS, unlike Panasonic).