Will Mozilla’s ultra-cheap smartphones make feature phones extinct?

Mobile & tablets

by Byomakesh Biswal| 12 June 2014

Mozilla to sell smartphones as low as $25 in emerging markets like India and Indonesia.

Mozilla is set to sell smartphones as low as $25 in emerging markets in a matter of months.

The US creator of the Firefox web browser is working with Chinese chip maker Spreadtrum Communications to release ultra cheap Firefox OS smartphones in the likes of India and Indonesia in a few months' time, it announced in a blog post.

Mozilla announced it was working with Spreadtrum to make a turnkey solution available for Firefox OS smartphones at MWC in February, and sample devices featuring Spreadtrum chipsets have now showcased at the ongoing Mobile Asia Expo in Shanghai.

Spreadtrum vice president of software development, Xiaomao Xiao, said: "Spreadtrum and Mozilla's turnkey solution defines a new level in smartphone affordability.

"Together with handset makers, we can now make the smartphone experience accessible to more consumers globally. We are pleased to be working together with Mozilla and with handset brands around the world to bring these affordable open Web devices to market."

Mozilla is pushing the Firefox mobile operating system as an alternative to major phone operating systems like Google's Android and Apple's iOS in emerging markets.

Mozilla chief operating officer Dr. Li Gong said: "Mozilla is dedicated to putting the power of the web in people's hands, and Firefox OS frees consumers, developers, mobile providers and manufacturers from the limitations and restrictions of proprietary platforms."

As part of its plan, the company is already collaborating with handset makers and five wireless carriers to sell Firefox-based smartphones in European and Latin American countries.

It is collaborating with Chinese handset maker ZTE and South Korean company LG, while it has also struck deals with telephone carriers like Telefónica, Deutsche Telekom and América Móvil to sell Mozilla-powered smartphones.

The company claims that there are 22 telecom operators including Taiwanese company Chunghwa Telecom, China Unicom, KDDI and SingTel that are supporting its open web device initiative.

Currently Mozilla-based cheaper smartphones are being sold above $60 in Europe and Latin American countries, which is still expensive for users in South Asian countries.

The company wants to further reduce the prices to lure in feature phone users.

Mozilla chief operating officer Gong Li told Wall Street Journal one US dollar means a lot of things to consumers in emerging countries.

"It's difficult to sell smartphones that cost more than US$50 in those markets," Li said. "With a $25 price tag, there is no price gap between a smartphone and a feature phone.

"This attractive price point would help motivate feature-phone users to switch to smartphones."

The company has already collaborated with telecom carriers to sell Firefox-powered smartphones in emerging economies and now it plans to ally with local handset makers like Micromax in India and retailers to push sales.

It has also partnered with Intex and Spice, two of India's leading mobile device brands, to bring the first Firefox OS devices to India in the next few months.

Intex Technologies (India), Business Head, Mobile Sanjay Kumar Kalirona said the association with Mozilla will enable the company to develop unparalleled smart devices on the latest Firefox OS platform.

"The platform will give us an edge in upgrading buyers from feature phones to smartphones while making it affordable for the mass market. This will propel our devices to be much more than a way to use the web, but take the engagement further and develop the web as a mobile platform."

The firm hopes to sell more than 10 million phones in the next year.

Mozilla expects that its operating system can be a better alternative compared to Windows and Samsung's Tizen operating systems in emerging countries due to its open ecosystem, which will give wider choice of applications.

Firefox OS was claimed to be the first device platform built entirely to open web standards, with every feature developed as an HTML5 application, the company said.

Sample device with Spreadtrum chipset being demonstrated at Mobile Asia Expo. Image Courtesy: Mozilla

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