WARNING: This post reflects my PERSONAL opinions and not those of Mozilla !

Doing something new requires tenacity. There can be a lot of challenges (emotional, intellectual, financial, etc.)

FirefoxOS is one of those things.

The OS itself is a real community driven, free Open Source project. This, in and of itself, is challenging. Search the web for “Is Android really Open Source” and you will read about some of the issues and challenges.

Then there is the competition. There are 6 billion mobile phone subscriptions in the world, and in the smart-phone segment, Android has 52.2% or the market and Apple has 33.4%. Even Microsoft hasn’t been successful in cracking the smart-phone market, no matter how much marketing they invest in the effort.

And what about the technology? HTML5 is not done yet, is it? It’s not hard to find an “expert” that will tell you HTML5 is not ready for prime time!

So why would you, as a developer, bother starting to build an application for a platform that hasn’t been released yet, on a technology that’s not ready yet, developed by a relatively tiny organization in the industry?

I spend a lot of time at work playing devil’s advocate and having this conversation with the engineering, marketing, and business development teams I work with at Mozilla.

But, after all, Mozilla is the poster child for success against the challenging conditions I just described. The community-driven, open source projects of Firefox and Thunderbird were launched to shake up a market that was already dominated by strong commerical competitors.

Mozilla’s mission has always resonated well with people, especially software developers who care about the free and open web.

And, in my humble opinion, the developer audience who will ultimately buy into Firefox OS is larger and somewhat differentiated from the traditional supporters of the Open Web.

While not all application developers define success in terms of monetary return, the success of all applications is defined by:

  1. The ability to REACH the largest possible percentage of intended users.
  2. The usefulness of the FUNCTION it provides to those users

The function can take many forms.

  1. Monetary gain
  2. Decreased customer service costs
  3. Increased customer satisfaction
  4. Decreased operational costs
  5. Increased or Improved Brand Identity and Affinity
  6. Public Service

There are other considerations like personal preference, choice of technology, hardware, “cool factor” etc., but it’s my contention that all other factors are not “decision pivots” like reach and function are.

So, if the question is “why would developers start building apps today for Firefox OS,” the question can’t be answered without discussing Firefox OS in the context of reach and function.

So, can you really meet your technical needs with HTML5 ?

First, I’m not even going to refer to the development technology as HTML5 because it’s much more than markup language.

Let’s instead call it the Web-Runtime!

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • JavaScript
  • JavaScript callable runtime implemented APIs
  • Related tools, libraries and frameworks

If your goal is to find some application feature that you just can’t make work using the above technology, you probably can find a corner case of some sort, though in the last year I’ve yet to have a developer describe a consumer application use case scenario to me that truly could not be done with Web-Runtime technology.

Yes, the technology is evolving so there are pieces that are not fully “here” yet – but I never suggested you wouldn’t have to get a bit creative if you are starting early in the Firefox OS / Apps ecosystem life cycle.

Apart from feature specific API concerns the other argument I hear is “the performance isn’t there!”

My teammate Rob Hawkes has been doing a lot of performance profiling of HTML5 games since games tend to really expose performances issues. He’s found a number of good games that work just fine written in HTML running on low end devices.

Like all performance considerations when you move platforms. Some optimization may be required.

Ok, so if you buy my argument that technically you could build your app for FirefoxOS, then why WOULD you?

Well, I think this is the interesting part.

First there is the expected reach opportunity .

FirefoxOS devices will start being available in 2013, initially in Brazil.

Eventually I think you’ll see lots of telcom carriers selling them in a variety of emerging and established markets. You see, carriers don’t make money on phones; they make money on services including bandwidth consumption. This means that they are happiest when everyone can afford the phones that will be used the most often and that will promote lots of interaction.

The original code name for Firefox OS was “Boot to Gecko,” referring to fact that the design imperative for the operating system was booting directly to the Gecko rendering engine without the heavily layered stack that you see in other mobile operating systems. This means that it will run well on lower end (less expensive) hardware.

It also suggests that Firefox OS devices will enjoy great success (penetration) in emerging markets. Why is THAT important to developers? (See the Firefox OS Marketplace HERE)

Nearly every mobile industry analyst will tell you that the biggest opportunities in the software industry are in emerging markets. Many (perhaps most) emerging markets have better cellular infrastructure than conventional Internet infrastructure, and many have better cell service (with data) then we have in the U.S.A.or Europe.

There is an entire generation of users who skipped the traditional connected personal computer and went straight to mobile.

On top of that, the apps that you write for Firefox OS phones will also install as native apps on Android phones and tablets with the Mozilla Web-Runtime installed. That’s an additional 300 million devices with hundreds of thousands of new users every day.

And like they say in the ShamWow infomercials, “But wait, there’s more!…..”

Because the entire stack is open, in the near future you’ll be able to run your well designed app on Windows, Mac and Linux Computers. And if Microsoft and Apple permit it, probably iPhone/iPad and Windows Phone / Surface devices too.

That’s one app – everywhere.

Then we will have achieved the idea that “The Web IS the Platform”—t he idea that the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts.

As I side note, I think people continue to be confused about what is an app versus what is a web page. Maybe there is no real answer but if you think outside the box a little, the fact that you can write apps (or web pages) that work even when no or limited connectivity is available create the opportunity to build some really interesting experiences for end users.

Yes, there are some “ifs” in all that logic, but you don’t get to AMAZING by waiting to see what everyone else does.

Before I wrap up, I wanted to hightlight one additional inducement for app development, and that’s the last item on my app functions list above. Enhancing Public Service.

Every day I Mozilla I participate in conversation where people are asking about and talking about “how can we make things better for people?”

For example, at my last organizational team off site, a representative from Medic Mobile came to speak to us about the amazing things they are doing in developing regions of the world to help get desperately needed health care to patients in remote areas.. It was one of the most inspirational talks on the use of technology I’ve heard and it made me think about what could be done with rich Firefox OS smart phones to make people’s lives better around the world.

As an advisor, consultant, industry analyst, throughout my career, I’ve always looked at new and interesting technology and markets and continued to ask the question, “when is the right time to “get in?”

After a year of being involved with HTML5 and mobile technology, I think the time for starting to build apps for Firefox OS is now! At least for many, many kinds of apps and targets.

So…….

  1. If you have an HTML5 app or page that you’re considering bringing to FirefoxOS and the Firefox Marketplace, or
  2. You have an Android of iOS app that you’re considering bringing to FirefoxOS and the Firefox Marketplace, or
  3. You have an idea for an app in Brazil, or
  4. You have a Firefox Add-in that you could bring to FirefoxOS and the Firefox Marketplace, or
  5. You just have some other cool idea for an HTML5 app

Then I want to hear from you!!!!

Tell me about your app!

J Stagner AT Mozilla DOT com