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12 February 2016

Mozilla refocuses Firefox OS on connected devices

One by one, the promising new smartphone operating systems, which hoped to chip away at the Android/iOS duopoly, are admitting defeat and refocusing on the less entrenched world of wearables and the Internet of Things. Mozilla has joined that sad procession, in the wake of Samsung Tizen, webOS and Baidu Cloud OS, and perhaps just ahead of Windows Phone, to judge by that platform’s increasingly tiny showing in Microsoft’s results.

Although Mozilla numbers about 14 smartphones running its Firefox Mobile OS, and the same number of supporting operators, it said at the turn of the year that it would stop designing handsets. Now it is going a step further and exiting the smartphone sector altogether, shifting its focus to IoT applications.

After the Firefox OS 2.6 release in May, there will be no Mozilla staff involved in the development of the platform for handsets. The organization is longer accepting submissions for Android, Desktop, and Tablet apps in its Firefox Marketplace.

“The circumstances of multiple established operating systems and app ecosystems meant that we were playing catch-up, and the conditions were not there for Mozilla to win on commercial smartphones,” wrote Mozilla’s George Rotor in a blog post. “We have decided that in order to succeed in the new area of Connected Devices we must focus our energy completely on prototyping the future and exploring how we can make the biggest impact in IoT.”

At its developer event in December, Mozilla announced the decision to stop designing smartphones. Its SVP of connected devices, Ari Jaaksi, said in a statement that it would “continue to experiment with the user experience across connected devices” but would “stop offering Firefox OS smartphones through carrier channels”. He said this was partly because it had proved impossible to “offer the best user experience possible”.

Firefox OS was built around on a web-based experience, rather than native apps, which helped it to work well on low cost handsets, but also relied on a shift from apps and downloads towards streaming and web services – a shift which has proved slower than many expected on mobile devices.