Mozilla Aims Firefox OS at Low End Mobile Market

by Matt Klassen on February 19, 2014

If the struggles of Blackberry’s OS, Microsoft’s Windows Phone, or Samsung’s Tizen experiment have shown us anything, it’s that there simply is no room in the high end mobile market to compete against the likes of Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android. Yet mobile upstart Mozilla, an unlikely player to be sure, has found surprising success with its browser-based Firefox operating system, able to eek out a sturdy toehold in the market by following one simply rule: avoid the high end market at all costs.

The simple fact of the matter is that for most of the world smartphones remain an elusive technology, as even the lowest end Android phones are priced out of reach of the common man. But where Android, iOS, and practically every other mobile OS out there have failed, Mozilla has found the road to success, adopting a distinctly Nokia-esque marketing strategy that will likely see the company flood emerging markets with cheap no-contract phones.

While smartphones are becoming increasingly affordable for us here in the West, the cost of even the lowest-end handset remains a barrier to smartphone expansion in the world’s emerging mobile markets. It was last year that Mozilla first unveiled its Firefox OS, the company aiming its browser-based platform squarely at the ultra low end of the smartphone market. In fact, last year the company’s initial Firefox phones were available unlocked and off-contract for $79.99, and while pundits have placed the true affordability barrier at $30, there’s no question that Mozilla’s efforts are a good start.

“They’ve shown their strategy of going after the low end has been the right one,” said Ovum analyst Nick Dillon. “The emerging markets, bringing the Web and data to first-time smartphone buyers and feature-phone buyers for the first time — that’s where their strength lies. If they tried going up against mature smartphone platforms at a higher price point, they just would have got squashed.”

While brand new to the mobile market Mozilla clearly has an edge on its competition in the world’s emerging smartphone markets, as no other company has really shown a willingness to significantly lower the cost of its budget smartphones. What companies need, of course, is a mobile strategy for emerging markets, but such a complete and total rethink of smartphone design– one that would seriously incorporate data and cost constraints– takes time, energy, resources, and funds, and selling the phone at $30 means there’s little these companies will get in return.

Although unlikely that Firefox will make any significant inroads in the North American market, Mozilla already has a number of carrier partners around the world, most notably ZTE and Telefonica, which is having great initial success with the platform in South America. But Mozilla is keen on growing its list of Firefox allies, as a widespread network of carriers around the globe is the only way the company will be able to achieve the distribution it needs to turn a profit.

But there in lies the long term difficulty for Mozilla, as it’s incredibly difficult to achieve sustained profitability in a quantity-over-quality low end market, a fact that virtually brought Nokia to its knees. Add to that the fact that the lower end smartphone market is the only growth option for the high end incumbents, meaning Mozilla’s initial success at reaching those new to the smartphone world will be short-lived.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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