Mozilla's Firefox OS will also appear on high-end phones

Mozilla expects its Firefox OS to become the third major mobile OS

The upcoming Firefox OS will appear on higher-end smartphones, and not just entry-level handsets, with Sony expected to release a premium device running the operating system, a Mozilla executive said.

"Sony is known for quality and user experience. So they are targeting for very very high (end). We are in joint discussions on the kind of device and what's the product," said Li Gong, Mozilla's senior vice president for mobile devices.

Mozilla's Firefox OS is among several fledgling mobile operating systems all vying for a presence in today's market dominated by Android and Apple's iOS. To start off, Firefox OS is targeting entry-level smartphone users and the first handsets will arrive in select markets in Europe and South America this July, Gong said in an interview Wednesday on the sidelines of the Global Mobile Internet Conference.

Mozilla, however, is in talks with additional vendors on developing higher-end phones using the OS, Gong said "The low-end entry point devices are good point to enter the market. But that doesn't mean we can't scale up or we don't want to scale. We do want to scale up," he said. "But an ecosystem takes some time to build."

Already, handset makers Sony, LG, ZTE, Huawei and Alcatel are working with Mozilla to develop phones running the Firefox OS. In addition, 18 telecom operators want to use the operating system, Gong said.

The initial industry support has Mozilla confident that its operating system can stand alongside Android and iOS as the third major operating system in the smartphone market.

"I can tell you there will be a third one (mobile OS) and it's going to be us." Gong said. "Why it's going to be us? It's because we are the only company that takes a pure approach. We are entirely open. Not only open source, but open process. No price, no nothing."

Google also markets Android as open source. But the behind-the-scenes development of the OS and its upcoming versions are still closed off to telecom operators and hardware manufacturers, according to Gong. These industry players can only make tweaks to Android once a new version is fully released.

"They may like it or not like it. But they have to take it," he said. "People like to see us because we are totally transparent. All the products, all the roadmaps, the delivery, feature sets, bugs, fixes, everything is open. Anybody can come in and see where it's headed."

Analysts, however, are doubtful that Firefox OS will change the mobile landscape dramatically given its late entrance into the market. At the same time, other open source mobile operating systems, such as the touch-version of Ubuntu and the Samsung-backed Tizen OS, are also competing for a share of the mobile OS market.

But Gong believes momentum is building for Firefox OS, and points to the company's large number of partners. In addition, the operating system is based on HTML5, a programming language in wide use, making the OS easy to develop apps for, he said. The first batch of Firefox phones will also feature performance on par with similar competing handsets, but at a lower price.

"When we started doing this project, people thought we were crazy. 'Who needs a third OS?'" he said. "But for businesses there is a strong desire for a third one. This is why the moment we stood up and said we are going to do it (make a mobile OS), so many operators came."

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Michael Kan

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