New - Firefox OS 1.3
Written by Mike James   
Friday, 09 May 2014

Mozilla is still pushing ahead with Firefox OS, which is arguably the most open and easy to develop for mobile platform of all. Version 1.3 is now released and it has some important new features.

Firefox OS currently isn't a disaster, but it isn't a success either. Many feel that it is still a work in progress and you have to admit that with each new version it is improving. This latest release is based on Gecko 28.




From the user's point of view the new 1.3 brings dual SIMs and dual-standby support. A new SIM manager allows the user to designate a particular SIM for text and data or voice. Of course, the phone has to support two different SIMs at the same time. 

The camera software has been upgraded to include continuous autofocus on hardware that supports it and the Gallery app has been improved. There are lots of minor improvements to the whole system. You can now control your music player from the lock screen and notifications tray and you can play the FM radio through the phone's speaker.  Email now supports POP 3 - long overdue - and you can automatically send an MMS if you place an image or a video in an SMS. Bluetooth file transfers can now be simultaneous and there are lots of performance improvements. 

From the programmer's point of view the OS now supports WebGL and WebAudio and asm.js. Take a look at the following video to see what it is all about, but the bottom line is that Firefox OS is now up to supporting full 3D games without the need to resort to anything other than JavaScript: 


Also new is the WebNFC which you can use to experiment with NFC pairing and tag reading.  The move to Gecko 28 brings with it some new WebAPIs - shared workers, speakerManager and WebIccManager which lets you work with multiple SIMs.  Finally support for audio streaming with RTSP is included. 

At the moment Firefox OS is a very appealing system for developers, but not so much for end users. You can buy developer phones at very reasonable prices to experiment with, but if you do create an amazing app then the market for it probably isn't there yet. Consumer phones running Firefox are being sold in markets where cost is the main issue. Firefox phones are cheap rather than technologically desirable. Even so, for a relative newcomer, Firefox OS is making a small and growing impression in the market.

At the moment the fact that Firefox OS users don't really represent a single motivated entity as the phones are mostly promoted by particular carriers. Mozilla is trying to do something about it. In the latest release they have improve the way users can search from apps in the Firefox Marketplace and the web. The OS also groups apps into smart collections on the home screen and suggests things you might be missing. 

From the programmers point of view the biggest problem, apart from lack of a market, is the currently underdeveloped set of WebAPIs that the OS relies on to allow access to its hardware. Mozilla is pushing ahead with new APIs and trying to get them standardized but at the moment it isn't true to say that a Firefox OS app is a standard web app.

One of the best things to have happened to the OS recently was the launch of Firefox 29, which includes the ability to install and run the emulator. This makes getting started with Firefox OS apps very easy - you can almost do it by accident. What is missing is a single IDE that comes with Mozilla's blessing that lets you target the OS complete with support for the WebAPIs, code auto-completion and the other editing facilities that make things easier.

The other good news is the launch of the ZTE Open C Firefox phone which runs the latest OS out of the box and costs $99. The downside is that this reasonably specced phone is only available via eBay and is very much targeted at enthusiasts and developers. 




Coming soon is a promised $25 phone and the next version of Firefox OS based on Gecko 30 should be with us by the end of the summer. 

Can Firefox OS take the mobile world from the low end upward?

Who knows, but if you are a developer and want a $99 phone, or if you wait a while possibly a $25 phone, that works with any carrier, is easy to create apps for and is about as open as it gets - then Firefox OS is what you want. However, don't expect to make much, or perhaps any, money from your work at the moment. 





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Last Updated ( Friday, 09 May 2014 )