Firefox OS is dead

On 8 December 2015 Mozilla announced that Firefox OS was dead. A day later they posted an official statement on their blog, in an attempt to mask their failure with positive spin. My last hope for a truly free smartphone OS was extinguished. Over  200 spent on two Firefox OS phones was wasted.

I had held off buying a smartphone until I purchased a Geeksphone Peak with Firefox OS in December 2013. I didn’t like and still don’t like phones with Android and iOS. I believed in Mozilla’s mission to use the web as the universal platform for smartphones, to make interoperability between different operating systems possible. The idea was good, but the execution was bad.

The Geeksphone Peak never gave me working GPS because the phone suffered from a bug, which Geeksphone could apparently not fix with a software update. They suggested their users to modify something in a config file, but even then I had no luck. I ended up buying the ZTE Open C, which did have working GPS. However, ZTE never bothered to ship updated stable versions of Firefox OS. Maybe Geeksphone did supply one stable version shortly after the release of the phone, but that was it. This way, bugs I noticed in Firefox OS weren’t fixed.

Mozilla itself is also to blame for this. On their website and wiki it was never clear what they were working on and what their release schedule for Firefox OS was. Bugs reports I (and others?) filed on Mozilla’s bug tracker weren’t processed. If they were, no or not enough work was done to fix them.

I was very disappointed in Mozilla. It seems like they got in over their heads. They misjudged how difficult and time-consuming it would be to dislodge Android. When they did figure it out they threw in the towel within two years time. They made some big mistakes which could have been avoided.

Mozilla should have taken ownership of the update process themselves, so that users were not dependent on the whims of indifferent smartphone manufacturers to provide updates. Good communications and building a strong community around Firefox OS would have helped much to gain momentum. Mozilla should have done more to get app developers on board to make their apps available for Firefox OS, before they started releasing phones with Firefox OS. Apps like WhatsApp, Netflix and Spotify for example should have been available from the start.

From a strategic perspective, Mozilla’s assumption that they could serve the bottom end of the market in developing countries without (much?) competition from Android fell through. They should have known this wouldn’t have been a viable strategy. I would have loved to see a different strategy: build a completely open source smartphone OS for all market segments, which respects user privacy and is not dominated by a single company. I hope I might see such a smartphone OS in the future.

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