Behold Ye, Google & Apple, the $90 Firefox Phone and Despair!

| Analysis

You've heard it threatened for more than a year, and now it's here—the first Firefox OS-based "smartphone" will be released on Tuesday in Spain. The ZTE Open will be priced at €69 (roughly US$90), and that includes €30 (roughly $39) in pre-paid credit. Is this something Google and Apple should be concerned about? Yes and no, in that order.

ZTE Open

The Firefox OS-Powered ZTE Open

Let's start with the device. This is the lowest end of the low end. We put smartphone in quotes above not to be snarky jerks (though we know how to do that, too), but because the ZTE Open is far more of a vaguely "Internet connected device" than it is a smartphone.

Mozilla's Firefox OS smartphone project uses the open source browser as a mobile operating system. There's no app download store, and everything the user does is done through the browser.

The device does come with a photo gallery app, though CNet noted that it's limited, and users can use "dynamic search" to look for apps on the Web. Fun, right?

On the hardware side, the ZTE Open is just above a feature phone, if that. It has a 3.5-inch 480 x 320 pixel display, a single core processor (unspecified), and Bluetooth 2.1. On the sensor side, it has an accelerometer and an ambient light sensor, and it does GPS through assisted GPS. For Wi-Fi, it supports 802.11b/g/n. It has 256MB of RAM and 512MB of storage (augmentable through a memory card).

It measures 114mm (4.48-inches) × 62mm (2.44-inches) × 12.5mm (0.49-inches). That compares to the iPhone at 123.8mm (4.87-inches) x 58.6mm (2.31-inches) x 7.6mm (0.3-inches). The Galaxy S4 measures 136.6mm (5.38-inches) x 70.6mm (2.78-inches) x 8.6mm (0.34-inches).

Apple & Oranges

None of which is going to be even vaguely usable for iPhone owners and owners of high-end Android devices. The display is a joke, the processor uncapable (to coin a word), and the memory and storage nonexistent.

iPhone and high-end Android device fans aren't the target market, however, and this is central to the point. The ZTE Open is aimed at the low end of the market still using feature phones, including users who are intimidated by the capabilities of the Galaxy S4 and iPhone.

No, we're being so fair there, we're being unfair. The ZTE Open is aimed at people who would currently buy a low end Android device because it's cheap cheap cheap. The iPhone market isn't a consideration for this first Firefox OS device.

As such, it will be used as a feature phone and little else, the same as the cheap Android devices that dominate Android sales today.

Google

That's why Google should be tense about this thing—at least a little. Low-end Android devices might not get much use as smartphones, but Google does still get to take user data such as location services information and add to the user profiles that are the company's product. That won't be the case for Firefox OS devices.

In other words, because Apple doesn't play at the low end, devices like the ZTE Open and other Firefox OS devices that will be coming out soon will be taking share from feature phones and Android, not iPhone.

Usability

The question, however, will be how usable customers find these devices when it comes to making phone calls and texting. If they work and the browser-based experience is as seamless as a low-end Android device, Firefox OS will do well, especially in emerging markets.

Carriers have long been known to be tense about losing control of the customer experience with smartphones. With Firefox OS, they may see an opportunity to reinsert themselves into that experience. If so, they will be putting a lot of resources into new Firefox OS and Linux-based Tizen, at least until they prove to be a dud.

In the end, we suspect that will be the case. Google has the resources to continually make Android more compelling, even at the low end, and as advances in technology and manufacturing continue, there will be less and less and less room to compete on price.

It won't be too long before devices with a $50 unsubsidized retail price will have the capabilities of an iPhone 4 or a Galaxy S3. While the high end fight between Google and Apple will be out of this world, with entry-level devices on the low end, Google has the advantage over Firefox OS or Tizen.

It will be interesting see what happens.

Thanks to TMO member BurmaYank for the heads up on the ZTE Open.

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8 Comments Leave Your Own

Rocwurst

It is indeed hard to see Apple being affected by this Firefox phone.

The Android smartphone market is already awash with phones such as my Huawei X1, a $79 Android “smartphone” with 512MB of RAM, no GPU, a 2.8” screen and which doesn’t support any OS later than the ancient Froyo release. This phone is so slow and resource-constrained that I gave up trying to use it for web browsing, email or apps.

Then there is the $89 Tecno D3, a phone also with 512MB of RAM, a 3.5” screen but no 3G, no GPU or the sub-$100 Samsung Galaxy Y a phone with a piddling 3” 320x240 screen - the list goes on.

We can already see the result in usage share figures where despite Android’s numerical superiority, it is iOS that has 3x the web browser share, 4x the app developer revenue, 2x the in-app ad impressions, etc.

Flurry’s figures that put the total number of “active” app-using Android devices at only 568 million worldwide, only 10% more than the 510 million active iOS devices highlights the fact that most Android devices are just used as glorified featurephones.

As such, Apple does indeed have little to worry about while Android has a new competitor in the cheap and nasty stakes.

Lee Dronick

It will “save the web from Apple and Google”

http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/07/01/mozilla_s_firefox_phone_why_telefonica_s_new_zte_open_matters.html

Paul Goodwin

Haha Lee. So by buying Apple we’re ruining the web by moving developers away from it. Oh well. The world needs cheap phones, and I guess I’m glad it’s Firefox. But that phone sounds pretty awful.

BurmaYank

I’d expect that the Mozilla OS’s market fate is mostly in the hands of Mozilla’s designers - if they can create a UI for their targeted poorer/technoaverse consumers which is elegant/friendly and functional enough to engender a large enthusiastic/trusting user base, that could provide an adequate foundation upon which Mozilla designers could then build incrementally better, smarter and more expensive smart(er)phones for their loyal now-more-technosavvy original users and their well-impressed associates.

ctopher

I don’t know. I love low-cost tech that can get the job done. (A Raspberry Pi is serving up a cheapo samsung laser to all our iOS devices!) If they put effort in the browser and camera, it could satisfy the talkin’ textin’ facebookin’ crowd. The don’t need multiple cores! But at $90, the compromises must be everywhere, reviews seem mixed, but these are from people with high-end androids and iPhones. I like the thought of a more open Chrome.

Constable Odo

It’s a nice phone for those who can’t afford better.  Some consumers in this world just don’t give a damn about the latest and greatest and the most.  Making simple telephone calls are good enough for those consumers.  I hear money is pretty tight in Spain, so this smartphone is being offered at a reasonable price.  Give it a good battery life and a strong case and it will be good enough for plenty of consumer users.  It sure won’t interfere with iPhone sales.

BurmaYank

For me, the absolute deal-killer for me, no matter how wonderful/superior a Chrome UI or an Android gadget might be, is its Google umbilicus .  No way, Jose!

MOSiX Man

Saw one of these and played with it a bit. Maybe (juuuuust maybe) I’m a smart-phone snob, but it seemed more like a toy than a real phone, to me.

Then again, market research shows that a lot of people buying Android phones are buying the low-end models because they just want to make calls, send/receive texts and (maybe) check email. I believe that this is especially true of people buying cheap phones off-contract. It’s primarily the other portion of customers, who buy more-capable Android phones or iPhones, that care about real apps and significant web usage. These FireFox phones (and the like) phones will be be competing with the low-end Android phones, not the high-end Android phones or iPhones. So, if they really take off, we may see Android’s marketshare drop (from the bottom end), but I seriously doubt that it will have any real affect on the iPhone market.

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