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Firefox OS gains reference devices, $25 phone

Feb 24, 2014  |  Eric Brown
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[Updated 12:45 PM] — Mozilla unveiled three Firefox OS reference platforms: a 4.5-inch Flame phone and 7- and 10-inch tablets, and showed a prototype of a $25 Firefox OS phone.

At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Mozilla announced the first formal reference smartphone for its Linux-based Firefox OS — the self-branded Firefox OS Flame phone — as well as the first developer tablets. The latter comprise an already tipped 7-inch Via “Vixen” tablet, and a 10-inch “InFocus” tablet from Foxconn.



Via Vixen (left) and Foxconn InFocus
(click images to enlarge)

Mozilla hardware partners ZTE and Alcatel also announced a number of new commercial Firefox OS devices. These include the ZTE Open C and Open II, as well as the Alcatel OneTouch Fire C, Fire E, and Fire S phones. In addition, Alcatel released the first commercial tablet for Mozilla’s platform, the 79-Euro Fire 7, and Huawei announced a Y300 Firefox OS phone.


ZTE Open C (left) and Alcatel OneTouch Fire C
(click images to enlarge)

Mozilla’s PR onslaught included a promise that the HTML5-focused mobile platform will gain the support of PhoneGap in its next release. In addition, Firefox OS developers can call upon new development tools found in the Firefox browser App Manager. Mozilla also previewed upcoming features in future Firefox OS features, including universal search, more customization features, and LTE support.

 
Firefox OS status

Below, we’ll take a closer look at Mozilla’s new developer hardware, as well as an intriguing $25 phone prototype. But first a quick look at the latest Firefox OS status. At MWC, Mozilla COO Jay Sullivan noted analyst estimates that between 500,000 and 750,000 Firefox OS phones shipped in the first six months since the flagship ZTE Open launched in Spain last July. That pales in comparison to the more than a million Android devices ship every day, but it’s still an impressive launch.

Mozilla also pointed to a 2014 projection from IDC for year-on-year growth in Firefox OS smartphone volumes by a factor of six. “In six short months, Firefox OS has more than established itself in the very markets it aimed to address,” stated John Jackson, VP of Mobility Research, IDC.

Firefox OS devices are now available in 15 markets, and this year Mozilla says it will add a dozen more countries. Its leading carrier partner Telefónica will expand its devices to Argentina, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama. Meanwhile, Deutsche Telekom will expand to Croatia, the Czech Republic, Macedonia, and Montenegro. In addition, Telkomsel and Indosat have joined the list of 21 mobile operators that have claimed support for the platform. This includes several carriers, such as the sole U.S. provider, Sprint, which have yet to announce Firefox OS devices.

 
Coming in 2014: A $25 Firefox OS phone

Perhaps the most important announcement in Mozilla’s barrage of MWC news is a collaboration with Shanghai-based fabless semiconductor company Spreadtrum to build budget, 2G and 3G reference designs for Firefox OS phones. Spreadtrum will develop 3G WCDMA and 2G EDGE turnkey designs, including a $25 Firefox OS phone based on a Spreadtrum chipset called the SC6821. At MWC, Mozilla showed off the $25 prototype, as seen in the Register shot below.



$25 Firefox OS phone prototype
(Source: The Register)

Mobile providers including Telenor, Telkomsel, and Indosat have “expressed interest” in the designs, with plans by the latter two carriers to ship the Spreadtrum-based phones in Indonesia later this year. Ecosystem partners including Polytron, T2Mobile, and Thundersoft, are also supporting the designs, says Mozilla. No more technology or launch details were provided, however.

Spreadtrum’s SC6821 chipset is likely a close cousin of its SC6820, which offers a single 1GHz Cortex-A5 core along with baseband support for 2G EDGE, GPRS, and GSM communications. The SC6820 also supports 1GB of DDR RAM, 4GB NAND flash. The device supports WiFi, Bluetooth, FM radio, a USB port, and a 5-megapixel camera, among other I/O. According to the Register, the newer SC6821 will support 3.5-inch HVGA (640 by 240 pixel) displays rather than the 800 x 480 WVGA screens supported by the SC6820.




Spreadtrum’s SC6820 chipset, a close cousin of the SC6821 found in the $25 prototype
(click image to enlarge)

One of the knocks on Firefox OS phones is that as cheap as they are, they’re still about the same price as some Android-based models which compete in the same emerging markets, but offer a comparatively huge selection of apps. Yet, the $25 price would appear to trump any Android phone pricing for the foreseeable future. Whether the performance will measure up to the rising mobile expectations even among the world’s poorest consumers remains to be seen.

Previously, Mozilla has claimed it can get more performance out of lesser silicon by using a streamlined, HTML5-based architecture rather than depending on processor-intensive middleware. In addition, it has optimized the platform for Snapdragon processors. Lately, the company has been reaching out to new processor platforms, including Spreadtrum.

 
Mozilla’s Firefox OS Flame developer phone

Until now, the Geeksphone Peak+, Peak and Keon devices have been the unofficial developer devices for Firefox OS, along with the unlocked ZTE Open. Now, Mozilla has its own official developer phone in the Firefox OS Flame.



Firefox OS Flame
(click image to enlarge)

Mozilla did not include pricing or availability information, nor did it mention the manufacturer for the phone. Geeksphone recently launched its own Intel Atom-based, dual-boot Android and Firefox OS Revolution.

The Flame is roughly equivalent to the Peak+, and similarly offers a dual-core, Qualcomm Snapdragon clocked at 1.2GHz. Yet, the Flame runs Firefox OS on a Cortex-A7 based MSM8210 with Adreno 302 graphics instead of the Peak+’s Cortex-A5 and Adreno 203 based S4 8225.

The 1GB of supplied RAM can be adjusted to reflect real-world scenarios as low as 256MB, says Mozilla. There’s also 8GB of flash, a 3G UMTS quad-band radio, and dual SIM support. A nice big 4.5-inch screen is supplied, but it offers only modest 854 × 480 pixel resolution in place of the Peak+’s 960 x 540 pixels.

The Firefox OS Flame is further equipped with WiFi, Bluetooth, aGPS, and a first for a Firefox OS device: an NFC radio. Other features include 5- and 2-megapixel cameras, an accelerometer, an 1800mAh battery, and a micro-USB port. The unlocked Flame offers access to the latest Firefox OS builds “to test nightly releases,” says Mozilla.

 
Foxconn InFocus and Via Vixen reference tablets

Mozilla unveiled the 10.1 InFocus developers tablet last month. The InFocus is made by Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., better known as Foxconn.

The InFocus is still the most powerful Firefox OS device yet, featuring a quad-core, Cortex-A7 Allwinner A31 SoC clocked to 1GHz and a PowerVR SGX544MP2 GPU. You get 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and a 10.1-inch 1280 x 800, IPS touchscreen.

Like the Flame, the InFocus provides 5- and 2-megapixel cameras, as well as WiFi, Bluetooth, aGPS, and micro-USB connections. A 7000mAh battery and a gyroscope are also available.



Foxconn InFocus

 

The newcomer here is the 7-inch Vixen tablet from Via Technologies. The developer-focused Vixen features Via’s own 1.2GHz Cortex-A9 based WonderMedia WM8880 SoC. The SoC ships with a dual-core ARM Mali-400 GPU.

The Vixen is further equipped with 1GB of RAM, 8GB of flash storage, and a microSD slot. The 7-inch capacitive touchscreen offers a modest 1024 × 600 pixels supported with an accelerometer. Other features include WiFi, Bluetooth, mini-HDMI, micro-USB, and headphone connections. The tablet includes a rear-facing 2-megapixel camera and a front-facing 0.3-megapixel webcam, and runs on a 4000mAh battery.

At CES last month, Via announced that it had ported Firefox OS to its $99 APC Paper mini-PC and similar $79 APC Rock single board computer. The company also said it was partnering with Mozilla to provide support and development services for future Firefox OS based “new device form factors” beyond smartphones and tablets. That same week, Panasonic said it was preparing a Firefox OS based smart TV.

No pricing or availability information was listed for the new developer tablets. However, it appears the InFocus has been shipping to a select group of developers for a month now.

Mozilla said it has expanded the Mozilla tablet program to a larger number of developers, who can now apply for the limited quantities of the two tablets at Mozilla Hacks. Mozilla is looking for “dedicated contributors who can commit to regular testing and reporting of defects, identifying and documenting feature gaps with competitor tablets,” and much more.
 

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