Mozilla has an operating system for mobile devices but seemingly not content with this, it plans to build an app launcher for Android. The question is why exactly?
Mozilla has announced that it is working on a homescreen for Android. Plenty have tried the same trick, Facebook for example, but Android users seem to be either particularly fond of the default launcher or they are particularly lazy about modifying their devices.
The Firefox Launcher is designed to replace the default home screen by a contextual app search. Mozilla has partnered with EverythingMe which already has a contextual homescreen that you can download and use now. When you start a search using it the homescreen show appropriate apps - a music player if you are searching for an mp3 file and changes the background to something relevant. It also provides smart folders that automatically populate themselves with the right sort of app - a social folder will show Facebook, Google+ and so on.
Details of the Firefox Launcher are a bit thin on the ground at the moment, but reading between the lines it seems that it is going to be a customized version of EverythingMe's launcher:
"Firefox Launcher for Android makes it easy to discover the content you want in any moment and is optimized for the way you use your phone. The app integrates the contextual adaptive app search from EverythingMe with the Firefox for Android Web browser to offer users a personalized and customizable Web experience that is fun and intuitive."
Overall there seems to be little that the Firefox Launcher can offer over the EverythingMe launcher.
Why is Mozilla doing this?
To understand the motivation you have to notice that in the latest version of Android the homescreen has been merged with Google search and it has been made part of the Play Services API. What this means is that the current Android launcher is no longer open source and won't be available on non-Google Android installations. There are a lot of non-Google Android devices in the world, including the Kindle Fire and a lot of Chinese handsets. In fact non-Google Android based on the open source portion of Android is growing faster than Google certified Android. This is presumably the reason Google is moving an ever greater proportion of the API into Play Services, which are not open source and strictly controlled by Google.
So there are two good reasons for Mozilla to want its own launcher and home screen. The first is to take advantage of all those non-Google devices that are in need of an update. The second is that Google has tied its launcher to Chrome at the expense of Firefox. Mozilla needs a launcher to keep Firefox on a level playing field with Chrome.
A download of Firefox Launcher should be available in the next few weeks.