BARCELONA—There’s a war brewing in the bargain-priced depths of the worldwide smartphone market, and Mozilla’s Firefox OS isn’t backing down in the face of overwhelming Google dominance.
Android already rules the smartphone scene in developing nations, and its Android One program has been designed to cement that stranglehold. Sundar Pichai, Senior Vice President at Google, made this explicit last year at Google I/O, and in other interviews since then. But Google doesn’t worry Chris Lee, Mozilla’s director of product for Firefox OS, who talked to us in a closed-door meeting at Mobile World Congress.
“When Android One came out, they had an offering that was pretty consistent,” Lee said. “But they came out at a starting point of above $100. When we launched a product in India, it was around $30.”
I asked Lee to explain how he’d pitch a Firefox OS device to someone looking at an Android One model. His response? “It’s a device that offers you flexibility and choice, that lets you have a level of security, and you’ll know that the organization behind it isn’t one that’s just looking out for themselves.”
Mozilla has been advertising Firefox OS this way to the 30 different countries where its handsets are sold. The company has its OS in some 16 devices right now, with price points that range from laughably low (to American sensibilities, at least) to exorbitant. For example, an entry-level Firefox OS device costs only $23 overseas, while the high-end Fx0, manufactured by LG and priced at $500, comes with a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor with 1.5GB RAM, a 2370mAh battery, and 16GB of internal storage.
The Fx0 aside, the idea behind Firefox OS is to offer pure bang for your buck. “When we think about the first device for users, there are very specific needs. Price is a key factor,” Lee said. “We’re looking closely at the hardware manufacturers and the operators to offer an aggressive, attractive plan with hardware that’s pretty decent.”