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Telefonica Shows Off Firefox OS Prototype, Reveals Plans

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HTML5-based operating system will ease Telefonica’s ‘over reliance’ on Android

Telefonica has shown a prototype phone using Firefox OS, the new open  HTML5-based operating system from Mozilla, and explained its reasons for adopting a fledgling OS in the face of huge competition from iPhone and Android.

Firefox OS will let the operator balance its “strategic dependence on Android” and allow for the creation of cheaper devices that offer the same user experience, claimed Telefonica Digital chairman and CEO Matthew Key, at an event in London.

Telefonica sees Firefox OS as a potential accelerator of smartphone adoption, especially in emerging markets, and has several advantages that will prevent it from being another failed attempt at creating a new operating system.

“We don’t underestimate the size of the task. Many attempts at creating new operating system have failed,” said Key, who called for other operators and manufacturers to get on board, saying that it wanted Firefox OS to be as broad a system as possible.

Broad system

Earlier this week, Mozilla announced it had two manufacturers and seven operators on board, but Key, speaking at an event in London, added that three or four more manufacturers were in discussions to build devices.

Carlos Domingo, director of product development innovation at Telefonica Digital, said as a web OS, Firefox OS was much lighter and demanded less processing power, meaning that it runs more efficiently. He said this meant it would run better on the same hardware than an Android phone and offer the same experience on a cheaper system.

He said that Telefonica had been looking at a web-based solution for some time and when Mozilla announced its project, the two parties merged their products to create one operating system under the Mozilla foundation.

Firefox OS prototype unveiled

They then contacted Qualcomm to help build a prototype, which Domingo showed to TechWeekEurope, displaying functions such as multi-tasking, messaging, Facebook and even gaming. The prototype had a touch screen, with four buttons at the bottom, with Domingo saying that every application was built with HTML5.

Telefonica believes that convincing developers to build applications for the platform will be easier than previous attempts because 75 percent of Android and iPhone applications are already based on HTML5 – and also because of the power of the Mozilla brand and community.

Domingo said that these apps needed to be native in order to access functions such as GPS and the camera, something that will be remedied in Firefox OS. Telefonica will also be reaching out to key developers in various markets to ensure that their products will be there at launch.

Mozilla is working on an application store, but since Firefox OS is an open platform, anyone can launch one. Telefonica said that in its territories, it will provide direct-to-bill payment services for apps. Commission for developers hasn’t been announced, but they will be “no worse than the competition.”

Open Web

Much of Mozilla’s funding comes from Google, so Domingo faced questions about just how Firefox OS would reduce Telefonica’s dependence on the search giant. In reply, he stressed that the platform was not an operator construction and that it was led by Mozilla, whose sole intention was to make the web open.

He pointed out that Google was a web company, who made its money from the web and that increasing access to it was in its best interest and Firefox was an important revenue source for it. Firefox OS will be “fully customisable”, more so than Android, according to Domingo, who said that although Google provided the source code, it controlled the governance of the platform.

“We want to provide alternatives to Android, not because we want to harm Google, but because we think it’s good for the industry,” said Domingo, who said that going head to head with the incumbents was either a “mistake or expensive.”

The first handset based on the platform will be released in Brazil on Telefonica’s Vivo brand in Brazil next year and will cost less than $100.

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Steve McCaskill is deputy editor of TechWeekEurope and joined as a reporter in 2011 having previously written for Steel Media. He covers telecommunications, networking, public sector IT, along with sports technology.

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