Firefox OS Smartphones Arriving for Developers

For quite some time Mozilla has been working on Firefox OS, a lightweight mobile OS based on HTML5. Now it’s whipped the curtain back from the first developer preview phones, developed by Geeksphone in partnership with Telfonica.

Hardware specs for the first developer preview phone, the Keon, includes a Qualcomm Snapdragon S1 1-GHz processor, 3.5-inch HVGA multi-touch screen, 3-megapixel camera, 4GB ROM and 512 MB RAM, 1580 mAh battery, over-the-air updates, and a variety of other hardware.

The second developer preview phone, the Peak, offers slightly more muscular specs: a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 1.2GHz processor (x2), a 4.3-inch screen, a dual set of cameras (8 megapixels for the rear aperture, 2 megapixels for the front), 1800 mAh battery, 4GB ROM and 512 MB RAM.

The developer preview phones are unlocked, requiring the user insert their own SIM card. If those specs seem a little underpowered compared to other smartphones on the market, it’s because Firefox OS is intended for lower-end smartphones; target markets include developing countries such as Brazil and China. (The first developer preview phones will be available in February.)

The Firefox OS (once known as “Boot to Gecko”) is based on a handful of open APIs. The actual interface is highly reminiscent of Google Android and Apple iOS, with grids of icons linked to applications.

Developing apps for Firefox OS will “keep the Web open,” argued a January 22 posting on, and “help make sure the power of the web is available to everyone—even on mobile devices.” In theory, the platform also offers the simplicity of developing on a single technology stack (HTML5/CSS/JavaScript/new WebAPIs) and distributing the resulting apps via a variety of channels: Firefox Marketplace, any online storefront based on Mozilla’s open app store technology, or a developer or company Website.

That would make Firefox OS altogether different from Google Android or Apple iOS, which keep all or part of their respective platforms closed off from third parties—the “walled gardens” frequently lambasted by open-source advocates. Android and iOS only support their own apps storefronts, which has led to copyright trouble between some of the biggest tech vendors.

Last September, Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs took a public swipe at the more closed nature of iOS and Android, calling for a more open approach to the mobile Web: “Rather than build things in secret, we tell the world what we’re going to do and invite participation.”

Two months later, posted a beta Firefox OS Simulator available via the desktop browser. Known as “r2d2b2g,” the simulator gave developers the chance to tinker with an early version of Firefox OS and test out any apps in development. Now, with the developer preview hardware, that development path has ascended to a whole new level.