This weekend I had the chance to play with a phone running Firefox OS, a relatively new open source mobile operating system. The Flame is the Firefox OS reference device, basically the first Nexus of the Firefox OS world. It’s intended for developers, not consumers. Still, the handset itself is a good-looking, 4.5-inch touchscreen phone with a crisp display, soft back, and bright orange accents on the home button, front-facing speaker, and camera.
In the five minutes I had to play with it, I was impressed with Firefox OS. It’s a modern touchscreen operating system with smooth interactions, an array of apps, and all the settings and customizations you’d expect. In my short time with the phone, which was not connected to the internet, I played a game of 2048, poked around the settings, and panned and zoomed around a maps app. I would have liked the 2048 tiles to slide more smoothly, and the map scrolling and panning to stutter less, but the groundwork is there. It is a web-based operating system that worked offline well, and there was no distinction between local apps and web apps.
As an avowed Android fangirl, my main question about Firefox OS is: why? If a manufacturer or a user wants an open mobile operating system, why not use AOSP and build on top of it?
Turns out that the very lowest level of Firefox OS is Android, with the Java/Dalvik layer removed so everything runs as a webapp, locally or on the internet. For consumers, the web focus means there are already gadzillions of apps that run on this phone. (They’re located on the web.) For developers, it means anyone who knows HTML and other web tech can build a local app without having to know Java or Objective-C (which is a big learning curve and a specialized skillset). Since Android’s hardware abstraction layer is included in Firefox OS, it’s compatible with many Android devices.
I love the open web more than I do Android, so the vision for Firefox OS appeals to me. I hope that with it, Mozilla becomes a serious player in the open mobile operating system game, and do what they did with Firefox the browser: upend assumptions about how software should work set by major companies, and make us all fall in love with the web again.