Today I got my hands on a device running Firefox OS. The device was a low powered ZTE with low memory and slow processor. So my expectations were not super high! 

Setting up the OS was easy, and very well laid out. It provided a short tutorial so I knew how to find my way around. The controls are very similar to other mobile operating systems and a single 'home' button keeps it simple. 

The touch was not super responsive. I struggled to scroll through options and select one. The touch behaviour is just slightly different to both Android and iOS - but after 10 minutes I had got used to it.  

I immediately checked out what the app store - called 'Marketplace' has to offer.  At this early stage in Firefox OS life it does look a tad disappointing, WinPhone and Blackberry offers more choice for apps. I downloaded a variety from social media, productivity, news and games. The quality of apps is very varied. Some appear to just be a website with no thought of targeting to the device (or in some cases even mobile!). While others feel like stand-alone native apps.

ColorNote and Taskino are two great examples of apps using offline storage and delivering strong user experience. These show the potential of Firefox OS, but unfortunately there are many others that abuse the use of open web standards and have taken no effort to release a quality product.  The latter is a great shame and is a serious risk for Firefox as a consumer product. The consumer market is unlikely to be excited by a poor app experience. There is also a lack of big name apps from other mobile platforms. Even Angry Birds has not been ported to Firefox OS!

I was disappointed by the attention to detail on some of the standard apps preloaded on the device. Such as the calendar and the message (SMS) app.

Opening the calendar app shows the menu icon (located top left) half off the screen. This may seem a small item to pick on but its a key call to action on a standard app and is an obvious bug in the UI. Why was it not fixed? Did they run out of time, did they not notice it?

When setting up gMail on the device Google sent me an SMS with an URL for me to tap on and verify my mobile. I am used to the feature where you tap the URL and it opens a browser at the target URL. Unfortunately this simple feature is missing from Firefox OS. I could not even copy the message content - I had to write the URL down with pen and paper then key it in manually.  Was this a feature cut to ship early? Was the feature ever considered?

Whatever the reason for these albeit small issues, they endorse the overall feeling that Firefox OS is very young, very new and has a lot of work to compete with the established players such as Android.

I do not mind that Firefox OS has such a naive attitude about it - as long as work is actively taking place to iterate and improve the basic elements.  It must not be ignored that Firefox OS devices are unlikely to be competing with Samsung S4 or iPhone. They have enough of a product to obtain market share in the emerging markets such as Africa, Asia or South America.

When considering emerging markets as a target market for Firefox OS devices there are some key winning features: 

+ A Radio (FM not web), which is a must have feature in the Africa market

+ A Mini Sim, which is a popular size - instead of iPhone 5 nano sim.

+ Billing via the carrier network, which is great in markets where credit card are not accessible to much of the market 

+ Low price - $80 US for an unlocked device with no contract

As Firefox OS finds a market and the user base grows, I expect the problems I have shared to be overcome. I look forwards to watching Firefox OS develop and grow up.  It will also be interesting to experience Firefox OS on a device with more power!

 

Posted
AuthorDave Martin