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Firefox to stop selling its own smartphones

Browser organization says it proved unable to offer the best user experience with Firefox OS and will back away from handsets

If 2014 was a year of brave new mobile operating systems, challenging Android’s dominance with open platforms and modern cloud-oriented designs, 2016 looks set to be the year when their hopes die. A week after Finnish start-up Jolla slashed the staff working on its Sailfish mobile system, Mozilla has announced that it plans to stop selling smartphones running Firefox OS.

The announcement was made at Mozilla’s developer event in Orlando, Mozlando, and the organization’s SVP of connected devices, Ari Jaaksi, added in a statement that Mozilla would “continue to experiment with the user experience across connected devices” but would “stop offering Firefox OS smartphones through carrier channels”. He said this was partly because it had proved impossible to “offer the best user experience possible”.

Firefox OS was built around on a web-based experience, rather than native apps, which helped it to work well on low cost handsets, but also relied on a shift from apps and downloads towards streaming and web services – a shift which has proved slower than many expected on mobile devices.

However, among the new Linux-based mobile platforms which hoped to provide an alternative to Android, Firefox was most strongly positioned. As of the end of last year, there were 14 smartphones running the OS, offered by 14 operators in 28 countries. Initially, the Firefox devices were sold by Alcatel, LG, ZTE, and Huawei and were aimed at consumers in Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Spain, and Venezuela.

Some of the carriers launching them were big names, including Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom. Operators repeatedly search for operating systems which they can control, and which can make them less dependent on Google and Apple. The quest to build an operator-driven alternative power base has been a forlorn one, however, from the days of Java-based SavaJe to the failure of MNO attempts – even by the mighty China Mobile – to do without the iPhone.

So Firefox OS, like other smaller platforms such as Samsung bada and even Windows Phone, did not gain a significant share of the carriers’ portfolios.

“Firefox OS proved the flexibility of the web, scaling from low end smartphones all the way up to HD TVs,” Jaaksi said in a statement to TechCrunch. “However, we weren’t able to offer the best user experience possible and so we will stop offering Firefox OS smartphones through carrier channels.”

“We are proud of the benefits Firefox OS added to the web platform and will continue to experiment with the user experience across connected devices,” Jaaksi added. “We will build everything we do as a genuine open source project, focused on user experience first and build tools to enable the ecosystem to grow.”

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