The Via Technologies APC project announced the availability of a preview release of Firefox OS for its $99 APC Paper mini-PC and similar $79 APC Rock single-board computer. Both products normally run Android 4.0 on an 800MHz Via WonderMedia Cortex-A9 system-on-chip, and offer 512MB RAM and 4GB flash, along with HDMI, USB, and Ethernet connections.
Via has posted “complete, buildable source codes” for Firefox OS on Github, and will provide over-the-air (OTA) updates of Mozilla’s Linux- and HTML5-based mobile OS. Via also said it will offer free APC systems to developers that fix a known issue.
APC Paper mini-PC and APC Rock SBC
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Although Mozilla has not supplied an official hardware development platform for Firefox OS, Geeksphone’s unlocked Peak+ and lower-end Keon phones have done the trick, along with Mozilla’s own Firefox OS Simulator. Recently, ZTE spun an unlocked $80 version of its low-end ZTE Open, which quickly sold out on eBay. A new batch is available, however.
Via’s APC products offer features not found on these phones, including HDMI, Ethernet, and USB ports. They could be especially useful for those contemplating developing Firefox OS systems in form-factors beyond phones. Via’s Taiwanese neighbor Foxconn (Hon Hai Precision Industry Co.) has promised to use the open source OS in multiple form-factors including a tablet.
“I think APC’s potential is really great,” stated Joshua Smith, student and Mozilla User Advocacy volunteer from New York. “It helps app developers, like myself, because it’s much easier than coding in a system-specific language.”
APC Paper and Rock
The APC Paper, which has only recently begun to ship, is functionally identical to the Rock single board computer with two exceptions. It’s housed in a recycled pressed cardboard enclosure reinforced with high-grade aluminum, and it lacks the Rock’s VGA port.
The APC Rock is based on Via’s Neo-ITX form-factor and measures 170 x 80mm. The Rock is equipped with an HDMI port and is designed to be used with monitors, rather than touchscreens. The custom build of Android 4.0 has been optimized for keyboard and mouse input, and comes with a browser and a selection of preinstalled apps.
ARM Cortex-A9 SoC
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Introduced earlier this year, the APC Rock SBC integrates a Via WonderMedia ARM SoC, which although clocked at 800MHz like Via’s original APC 8750 model, adopts the more powerful Cortex-A9 architecture that enables video resolutions up to 1080p rather than 720p.
RAM stays the same at 512MB of DDR3, but NAND flash has been doubled to 4GB, and more storage is possible via the microSD slot. Other features include 10/100 Ethernet, audio I/O, dual USB 2.0 host ports, and a microUSB OTG port. Headers for JTAG, GPIO, SPI, and I2C are also available.
A preview verison of Firefox OS is now available as a free download, compatible with both the APC Paper and APC Rock. Downloads are available at GitHub, and a developer site showing the full list of Firefox OS on APC issues is available here. More information on the APC Paper and APC Rock may be found at Via’s APC site.