Mozilla has given a preview of the initial devices to run the HTML5-based Firefox OS. The handsets include the ZTE Open plus the Alcatel OneTouch Fire. LG and Huawei will follow.
Making the announcement during a rambling and often chaotic event before the opening of MWC 2013, the initial devices will appear during Summer 2013.
Each will be powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon chips.
The unique play of Firefox OS is that it enables every feature to be developed as if it were an HTML5 web app; eessentially the whole device is based on the same technology as the web. Mozilla hopes that developers will be attracted by the ease of developing for the device.
"There is no new ecosystem – if you're developing for the web today, you're already developing for Firefox OS," said Jay Sullivan, Mozilla's head of products.
When we were being demoed the product, the Mozilla lackey summed it up as "iOS is developed in Cupertino by a couple of thousand engineers. This can be written by anyone".
Clearly designed for developing markets, the first Firefox OS devices will be available to consumers in Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Venezuela. Additional markets will be announced soon.
"Firefox OS brings the freedom and unbounded innovation of the open Web to mobile users everywhere," said Gary Kovacs, CEO of Mozilla. Last year we shared the vision with you, this year we're going to share the devices." Kovacs welcomed Mozilla's partners warmly, saying "being version 1 is not easy."
Joining Kovacs on stage was Qualcomm's CEO Paul Jacobs: "HTML5 is fundamentally important. What we're trying to do here is fill the gaps so developers can get applications out, to help the developers build the applications that will run cross platform.
"We [Qualcomm] really see our role around the ecosystem as being an enabler. We have a huge amount of experience around testing and working with the operators and handset manufacturers. One thing we've really been able to do is tightly optimise the software, making sure the interface works extremely well as the telephony works well.
"We're targeting this for high volume smartphones, making sure it works right down....that incredible market for those people who haven't got a smartphone as yet.
"Mozilla is a group of people that believes we should be doing good for the web," continued Kovacs. We're on the edge of unlocking mobile."
"At the heart of Mozilla we are not driven by commercial profits. We are certainly not going to be alone. At the centre of a phone should be the web and the web is a level playing field. Any payment mechanism should work."
Developers can distribute their apps directly, but there is a Mozilla Marketplace. Mozilla says it wants to "tear down the walls" between apps and the web. Mozilla says it will be easy to "discover one-time use and downloadable apps."
To date, 17 key operators have committed to what Mozilla calls the open web device initiative: América Móvil, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Hutchison Three Group, KDDI, KT, MegaFon, Qtel, SingTel, Smart, Sprint, Telecom Italia Group, Telefónica, Telenor, TMN and VimpelCom.