Like Samsung with Tizen, Mozilla admits defeat in smartphones, but hopes for opportunities in embedded devices

As we reported last week, Mozilla has announced that it has abandoned its smartphone ambitions for Firefox OS. But it will join the even more crowded space where hopeful operating systems are jostling to power embedded devices in the Internet of Things.

According to Ari Jaaksi, SVP Connected Devices, Mozilla will use the technology from the web-centric operating system to enter the IoT – branding the announcement as a new beginning rather than an end.

It’s a similar fate to the one that Samsung’s Tizen OS has suffered. Initially something of a bargaining chip in case Google began tightening the leash over its use of Android in Samsung handsets, Tizen was meant to provide an OS that Samsung could leap to if its Android licenses were revoked by Google – as the Android parent was growing increasingly frustrated with the amount of non-standard apps (bloatware) that Samsung was pushing on consumers.

However, Samsung began losing significant market share and profit to cheaper Chinese rivals, and since it no longer holds a crushing share of the Android smartphone market, that potential threat from Google seems to have receded – which is fortunate, as Samsung has failed to launch the Tizen flagship it promised.

Instead, and after a few abortive flagship launches in smartphones in Russia, as well as an undramatic mid-tier launch in India, Tizen is most commonly found powering Samsung’s smartwatches. At the time of their launch, Samsung needed a watch that could provide WiFi and cellular capabilities, to fend off the perceived threat that the expected Apple Watch provided.

In the end, Apple was in no rush, and Android Wear eventually added WiFi and cellular support, but Tizen was still successfully powering smartwatches and Samsung TVs. This sort of journey is a possible route to market for Firefox OS in non-smartphone devices, but Mozilla doesn’t have a hardware division to aggressively push the OS on the back of – and is consequently entirely dependent on getting vendors to adopt the platform and bring it to the IoT.

Tizen can count on market penetration as long as Samsung sticks with it. With its vast range of home appliances (TVs, refrigerators, air conditioners, washing machines), industrial equipment (HVAC, healthcare systems, barcode scanners), and mobile devices (smartphones and tablets that power a lot of its enterprise deals), Samsung has a huge potential IoT footprint that it can slowly convert to Tizen, if it so wishes.

Mozilla, meanwhile, doesn’t manufacture hardware (outside of a few niche projects, such as the prototype for the Matchstick HDMI TV dongle), and so must convince developers that Firefox OS is a worthy operating system to adopt. Mozilla faces competition in this arena from Android itself, as well as the Android-lite Brillo platform, as well as Microsoft’s push into the IoT with Windows, and the incumbent Linux (in its various machinations, including Android).

Basically, Mozilla is wading into an already crowded market, competing against many niche developers who have been in the game for years, using a lot of experience in web browsers and email clients, but not much in the way of embedded systems, RTOS, or silicon intricacies. It may have some serious skeptic-persuading to do.

Firefox OS was launched by open-source software-house Mozilla to provide a low-cost alternative to Android in emerging markets – with the end goal of producing a $25 smartphone that used a more web-centric approach than Android’s dedicated applications.

Even though Android initially struggled to make headway in these markets, Firefox OS was pretty much a non-starter – although it did find life inside a range of TVs built by Panasonic, where it was well received by many reviewers. Now the OS will likely begin cropping up in other home appliances, as Mozilla changes gears to push the OS into IoT devices – likely starting with larger devices like TVs, gateways, and hubs, rather than the severely resource-constrained hardware that resides in much smaller form factors.

Jaski has a lot of experience in this area, having spent twelve years at Nokia, where he was involved in developing the MeeGo mobile operating system that evolved into Sailfish, and then time at HP, in charge of webOS, which was also dropped by its parent and went on to find life in smaller (relatively commercially unsuccessful) guises with LG in its TVs – not that we want to suggest Jaski might be cursed.

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