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Firefox OS fork "H5OS" gets a $100 million boost

Jul 16, 2015 — by Eric Brown 6,369 views

[Updated: July 20] — Acadine, founded by former Mozilla execs, has received a $100 million investment from China’s Tsinghua Unigroup, to launch a Firefox OS fork called “H5OS.”

In March, former Mozilla president Li Gong left to form a startup code-named Gone Fishing, with a mission to build a web-oriented mobile OS partially based on Firefox OS. The company is now called Acadine Technologies, and the OS is dubbed H5OS, according to a report from CNET. Acadine has received $100 million in funding from a Hong Kong-based Chinese state-controlled company called Tsinghua Unigroup International, says the story.

The new name and funding for Acadine Technologies has emerged almost two months after Mozilla CEO Chris Beard announced he was dropping the Spreadtrum-based “$25 Firefox OS” phone, and had begun developing a new “Ignite” version of Firefox OS with higher end features. On June 5, it was also revealed by CNET that one of the original co-developers of Firefox OS, CTO Andreas Gal, had left to start his own Firefox OS spinoff aimed more at the Internet of Things market.


Mobile OSes peck at Android’s periphery

The development comes at an interesting juncture for alternative mobile OSes not called Android or iOS, which collectively control over 96 percent of the global smartphone market, according to IDC. Last week, Jolla announced it was splitting into software and hardware companies, and this week it announced a deal with Intex to launch a Sailfish OS phone in India (see farther below).

IDC global smartphone market estimates through Q1 2015
(click image to enlarge; source: IDC)

In other mobile OS news, Microsoft layoffs last week signaled the likelihood that Windows Phone is on its way to being revamped or shutdown. Meanwhile, Samsung got off to a surprisingly strong start in selling its first Tizen phone in India, and Canonical revealed the third phone to run Ubuntu Touch.

H5OS to target smartphones, tablets, wearables

In this week’s CNET story, Acadine Technologies CEO Li Gong, who was until April the President of Mozilla, said H5OS would target smartphones, tablets, and wearable devices. Gong furthered the impression that while H5OS will similarly be based on Linux and HTML5, it would be nowhere near as open as Firefox OS.

“Owning an OS is extremely important if you can do it,” Gong told CNET. “It’s very profitable if you can do it.” Later, he was quoted as saying: “We must move and scale up at the supersonic speed of the mobile industry, be pragmatic and flexible, and look beyond Silicon Valley for inspiration.”

Intex Cloud FX

According to Gong, his departure, as well as the exit of James Ho, Mozilla’s senior director of mobile devices, was “mutually agreed upon.” Since then, another 40 Mozilla employees have joined Acadine, which has hired another 30 employees from other sources. The company has set up shop in Hong Kong, and has offices in Beijing, Taipei, London, and Palo Alto.

Gong told CNET that when he left Mozilla, he was “the owner and primary driver” of the Firefox OS project. He appears to have been the promoter of the Spreadtrum deal for building a $25 Firefox phone, which last year materialized in a pair of phones launched in India. The $33 Intex Cloud FX and $38 Spice Fire One Mi-FX 1 apparently were too lowly even for the low-end emerging nation market.

The Spreadtrum phones ran Firefox OS on single-core, 1GHz Spreadtrum processors along with 128MB RAM, 256MB flash, a 3.5-inch, 480 x 320 display, and dual-SIM 2G radios. Low-end Firefox OS phones like the $40 Orange Klif, launched by Orange in Africa, seem advanced by comparison. The Alcatel OneTouch built phone sports a dual-core MediaTek SoC with twice the memory and flash of the Spreadtrum phones.

According to CNET, Tsinghua Unigroup acquired China-based Spreadtrum in 2013 for $1.8 billion. The company also bought baseband manufacturer RDA Microelectronics for $907 million, and HP’s enterprise computing business in China for $2.3 billion. The company is now said to be bidding for memory chipmaker Micron. Tsinghua Unigroup is controlled by Tsinghua Holdings, which in turn is run by the Chinese government and funded through Tsinghua University.

Mozilla attempts to re-Ignite Firefox OS momentum

Until recently, Mozilla’s Firefox OS appeared to have the most momentum of all the mobile Linux contenders. The project was the first such effort to reach market with a phone, and Mozilla continued to announce new Firefox OS phones, carriers, and manufacturers, reaching into the far corners of the globe. Yet, as low-cost Android One phones arrived, along with other cheap Android phones and knock-offs from Chinese vendors, Mozilla found little room to maneuver in the price range between Android phones and low-end flip-phones.

Orange Klif

So far, Mozilla has given no indication that it’s going to reverse its low-end global Firefox OS efforts, aside from the Spreadtrum phones. Firefox OS phones include the Orange Klif, as well as many other models from ZTE, Alcatel Onetouch, LG and others. In fact, Mozilla even plans to put a version of Firefox OS on flip-phones and other feature phones. In May, Beard said Mozilla was continuing its feature phone partnerships with Verizon Wireless, KDDI in Japan, and LG U+ in Korea, which were announced at Mobile World Congress in March.

Yet, the main focus is clearly on the new Ignite version of Firefox OS, which will target higher end phones, and offer features including support for service workers, more offline features, improved software updates, and IoT support. According to this week’s CNET report, Mozilla is aiming the OS initially as a mod upgrade to existing Android phones, perhaps following the lead of CyanogenMod.

Update, July 20…

    In a July 17 blog post, Mozilla confirmed that the upcoming Ignite version of Firefox OS will be designed to enable flashing an unlocked Android phone. Ignite will also run through B2GDroid, an app that lets users run the Firefox OS interface on Android. To enable the Ignite strategy, “we are immediately moving to a development model where we will drive a single open source core of Firefox OS, with major releases every six months, based upon weekly sprints,” says Mozilla.

    Mozilla noted it will continue to work with OEM partners to ship phones running the Ignite versions of Firefox OS. Ignite will also bring “more of Mozilla and the Open Web to people than just the Web technologies upon which our products are built,” says the company. Mozilla confirmed in the blog post that it will continue its feature phone initiative, as well as push Firefox OS into smart TVs and IoT devices.

    Prior to releasing Ignite, Mozilla plans to release Firefox OS 2.5 in November. Firefox OS 2.5 will provide local content, personalization, and privacy features, and offer a mobile version of the View Source feature. The release will also revamp the security model in order to expose more new mobile web APIs to developers and provide a “Firefox-like extension mechanism,” says Mozilla.

Jolla cuts Indian phone deal with Intex — and aims to split in two

At Mobile World Congress Shanghai this week mobile Linux contender Jolla announced [PDF] a deal with Intex Technologies — the largest India-based mobile company operating in India — to release a “products” later this year that runs the upcoming Sailfish OS 2.0 release. No hardware details were provided, but Jolla says it has developed “a range of Sailfish OS hardware platforms from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 200/600/800 configurations,” complete with 4G capability.

Jolla also announced the formation of a “regional mobile ecosystem” called “Sailfish India” together with Internet and online sales companies Times Internet and Snapdeal. Sailfish OS 2.0 will draw on this ecosystem to offer a built-in service called Partner Space, offering access to various local services, including Times Internet content and Snapdeal-enhanced online shopping.

Jolla tablet

The news arrives a week after Jolla announced [PDF] it was splitting into two. The existing Jolla, Ltd. will focus on the development and licensing of its Meego Linux based Sailfish OS, as in the Intex deal. The other company, which has yet to be named, will continue Jolla’s device business, which includes the Jolla phone and Jolla tablet. The hardware business will focus primarily, however, on new devices running the previously announced security-hardened version of Sailfish OS that the company is developing with the help of SSH.

On May 17, the Russian government announced it was working with Jolla to develop a mobile Linux OS for Russia. Russia appears to be especially interested in using technology from Jolla’s security-hardened Sailfish OS.

Sailfish 2.0 demo

The Indiegogo funded Jolla tablet, which was supposed to ship in May, will ship “as soon as possible,” says the Finnish mobile contender. Presumably, that will coincide with the official launch of Sailfish 2.0, more details of which were revealed today, including the YouTube video above. Sailfish 2.0 features “a totally new and visually refreshed user interface, and improved Android application compatibility and browser experience, says Jolla. Version 2.0 is also said to provide “smoother transitions throughout the OS and overall improved stability and performance.” The release also unifies the OS for both phone and tablet form factors.

An early version of Sailfish 2.0 is running on the tablet prototype, and an early access version will be posted soon. Yesterday, Jolla announced availability of an early access version of a Sailfish OS update called Björnträsket, which appears to be the last Sailfish 1.x release. The update promises a better WLAN connection for handling Android apps, and improved hands-free Bluetooth operation, among other improvements.

Tizen sells a million Z1 phones

Samsung Z1

If Mozilla’s revamp was somewhat surprising, even more unexpected was the June 29 announcement from Samsung that it has sold over one million units of its Tizen-based Samsung Z1 smartphones in India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. After the aborted launch of a somewhat higher end phone in Russia, the South Asia debut of the Z1 in January of this year seemed almost an afterthought as Samsung focused on pushing Tizen Linux into its Gear smartwatches and Smart TVs.

Yet, the unremarkable, dual-core, 4.8-inch Z1 seemed to hit the sweet spot for South Asia, at least initially, no doubt helped by the Samsung brand name and marketing effort. A million units is a drop in the bucket compared to Samsung’s sales of Android devices, but it’s not bad for a launch that was all but ignored in the press.

Third Ubuntu Touch phone reaches market

In other mobile Linux news, Canonical has announced a third Ubuntu Touch phone. After unveiling the BQ Aquaris E4.5 Ubuntu Edition in February, Canonical and Meizu finally shipped the long-awaited Ubuntu Touch version of the higher-end Meizu MX4 phone. The latter was originally tipped last September, but took longer than expected to reach market.

BQ Aquaris E5 HD

Also in June, Spanish phone vendor BQ launched a 200-Euro BQ Aquaris E5 HD phone with Ubuntu Touch that offers more advanced specs than found on the E4.5. The dual-SIM phone runs Ubuntu Touch on a quad-core Cortex A7 SoC from MediaTek clocked at up to 1.3GHz. The Aquaris E5 HD has a 5-inch, IPS display with 1280 x 720 pixels, and offers 1GB of RAM and 16GB of flash. There are also 5- and 13-megapixel cameras. The latter features Largan lenses and BSI sensors, as well as dual flash and 1080p recording.

Ubuntu Touch has appeared without the promised “convergence” version of Ubuntu based on Unity 8 and the Mir display server. It’s unclear if October’s Ubuntu 15.10 “Wily Werewolf” edition will put all the pieces together, enabling the development of a single app that can run on desktop, phone, and tablet platforms. However, the Ubuntu project is making progress on refining Mir, according to a recent Softpedia report.

Another Softepedia story this week says the Ubuntu Touch team is working on a replacement of the Grooveshark media player, which was recently discontinued as part of a settlement with major record labels over alleged licensing violations. It’s unclear if this is the new StreamSquid streaming music service, which claims to be a spiritual successor to Grooveshark, or one of several Grooveshark clones that have popped up.

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