The Nokia X, unveiled in Barcelona, was mildly interesting because Nokia is adding yet another platform to its mobile phone lineup and confusing the market. But the Nokia X (priced at $122) will likely fall far short of making progress toward the Finnish company's stated goal of going after the "next billion" users.
Most of the initial news coverage of the $25 smartphones with Firefox OS unveiled at the Mobile World Congress was lukewarm, if not negative. So were many readers' first reactions. Western observers generally seemed out of touch with the reality of emerging markets -- where people still have no PCs, no Internet connectivity, and no landlines, but they have access to 2G and 2.5G services (up to 3G in some cases).
Many reporters missed the mark by calling the $25 smartphone "as limited as its price suggests," or by insisting that "Firefox OS ultimately will have to go up-market if it's to succeed broadly."
Firefox's plan to go after first-time smartphone users in collaboration with Spreadtrum, China's leading chip vendor, will change forever not only the definition of the feature phone market, but also what to be expected of smartphones.
Dare take Android?
At a retail price point of $25, the Firefox/Spreadtrum team is focused on capturing a sizable piece of the feature phone market -- one segment that Android phones haven't been able to address thus far.
Firefox and Spreadtrum are "deliberately aiming lower than where most vendors can or will dare take Android at this point," Jackson said. "They have an evolved platform that will let them address price points well below $50."
Worldwide smartphone forecast (in millions) by OS, shipments, and marketshare. The asterisks indicate forecast data.
Even more noteworthy is the growing ecosystem that Mozilla has been able to build. At the Mobile World Congress, the company unveiled seven handsets running Firefox OS from device partners such as Alcatel Onetouch, Huawei, LG, and ZTE.
Operator support for Firefox OS is also expanding. Mozilla said this week that Telkomsel and Indosat have joined the list of 21 operators that support the open web device initiative. Those supporters include China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Hutchison Three Group, KDDI, Sprint, Telefonica, Telenor, and Telecom Italia Group.
Mozilla and its partners "have done well to somewhat quietly get the platform to where it is," Jackson said. "If the incremental growth and partner list continues this next year, it'll be a clear tactical victory that should have the full attention of the competition."
A proliferation of $25 smartphones would also likely make a big social impact on emerging economies. In light of the $25 smartphone, one EE Times community member said, "Seriously, no one wants a $100 PC now." The One Laptop Per Child movement several years ago sought to help close the gap between the developing world's haves and have-nots. With $25 smartphones (rather than $100 laptops), that might finally happen
If anything, a problem that might trip up $25 smartphones with Firefox OS is user angst. No consumers, no matter where they live, want to be told to be happy with a mediocre user experience. So many smartphones worldwide look alike and offer similar features. What ultimately distinguishes one smartphone from another is the user experience -- battery life, performance, and display quality when used in specific applications such as browsing, infotainment, messaging, and multimedia.
Of course, there will be always a place for Samsung and Apple. Brand matters. But as the smartphone market matures, handset vendors and mobile chip suppliers will be under growing pressure to justify their hardware (and price) to match the user experiences they can deliver to consumers who look for the best phones for how they use them.
As the battle over lower-cost smartphones unfolds, one certainty is that vendors can no longer compete based simply by the number of CPU cores inside a handset.
— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times