Mozilla’s Boot2Gecko hands on, a viable smartphone platform? (from MWC 2012)

Mozilla’s Boot2Gecko hands on, a viable smartphone platform? (from MWC 2012)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.

Mozilla’s Boot2Gecko hands on, a viable smartphone platform? (from MWC 2012)

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.

Mozilla’s Boot2Gecko hands on, a viable smartphone platform? (from MWC 2012)

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.

Mozilla’s Boot2Gecko hands on, a viable smartphone platform? (from MWC 2012)

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.

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6 comments

JanSt / MOD  Feb. 29, 2012 at 18:00

The more the merrier..

But excuse me - ever since the dreadful winmo minimo, and the rubbish mobile Firefox versions, Mozilla have been unable to catch up with Opera et al... If they cannot make a mobile browser, how good will their mobile OS be?
Okay, MS can't make a mobile browser, either, and they are the third ...something.

Pondlife  Feb. 29, 2012 at 18:05

Really looks like they should have kept that under wraps a bit longer, not much there of substance, seems bit embarrassing.

JanSt / MOD  Feb. 29, 2012 at 18:08

Really looks like they should have kept that under wraps a bit longer, not much there of substance, seems bit embarrassing.

Yeah... it's a bit like Ubuntu's "Big" demo yesterday... not showing much of actual phone-action.

Pondlife  Feb. 29, 2012 at 18:10

Isn't blackberry the 4th one though

JanSt / MOD  Feb. 29, 2012 at 18:13

Isn't blackberry the 4th one though

That depends on who is hiring what "analyst" ;)

Livven  Feb. 29, 2012 at 18:29

Really looks like they should have kept that under wraps a bit longer, not much there of substance, seems bit embarrassing.
Mozilla is a non-profit, they keep all their dev work open. But yeah, there was indeed not much substance there, though the sheer idea of a completely HTML5-based OS is too awesome.

Isn't blackberry the 4th one though
BlackBerry and Symbian both have more marketshare than Windows Phone, but Windows Phone has more potential than those.

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