It's incredibly hard to establish a new smartphone OS, especially now.
Android and iOS are clearly dominating the market, and Windows Phone is more or less on track to establish itself as the third platform behind those two – so, is there still room for a fourth player?
Mozilla thinks so. Its Boot2Gecko project is just that: a complete smartphone operating system based on the Gecko rendering engine of Firefox – essentially, this is Firefox running on a phone, and all apps are web pages designed with HTML5. Mozilla was showing off a modified Samsung Galaxy S2 running the Boot2Gecko system at its booth, and we took a look at it.
Turning on the phone, you'll see the lockscreen, which is pretty much standard stuff. Unlocking works by sliding up or down.
After that, you'll get into the homescreen, consisting of a 3x3 grid of icons. Due to this being a very early, experimental build, you can actually bring up the HTML source of any app by pressing the menu button, as shown here for the homescreen.
You might also have noticed the SMS notification on the bottom of the screen. It doesn't seem to work yet, as tapping on it does nothing, and there's also an Android-style notification shade that you can drag down from the status bar – also empty and non-funtional for now.
Of course, being Mozilla, Firefox is pre-loaded as the standard browser. Pinch-to-zoom isn't implemented yet, and most sites do not seem to recognize the current build as a mobile browser, so they'll return the desktop version. The Mozilla rep also showed off a pretty impressive WebGL demo running perfectly smooth, attributed to the fact that the graphics are all hardware accelerated.
However, not everything was as smooth as that graphics demo. The interface did lag pretty badly at times, for example when unlocking the screen or swiping between the different homescreens, similar to many lower-end Android devices. The rep attributed this to the experimental nature of the build, though.
Another point that could prove problematic for Mozilla is establishing a viable ecosystem of devices and apps: the HTML5 apps will be cross-platform compatible, meaning they will work on Boot2Gecko devices, obviously, but also Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and so on. While that could be an incentive for developers to create such apps, consumers would not actually have to buy a Mozilla phone to use them.
But consumers may not actually be Mozilla's main target. Due to it being open source and completely free, the non-profit organization expects carriers to widely adopt Boot2Gecko as an alternative to the locked-in ecosystems of iOS and Windows Phone, giving them more control over the phones they're selling. With Android, that's also possible, but only to a limited extent, since hardware vendors that wish to include Google's services – such as the Android Market, Maps etc. – need to get a license from the search giant.
Mozilla has already lined up LG as a hardware partner, as well as European carriers Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom. Devices are expected sometime in 2012.