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Mozilla FirefoxOS – a Classic Marketing/Technology #FAIL

"Technology searching for a problem" rears its ugly head

In a world of iOS, Android, Windows 8 - who needs another Mobile Operating System?

One has to wonder what the folks over at Mozilla are thinking with their newly announced Firefox OS for mobile devices.

The Mobile OS Market
According to the latest IDC Research reports, Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Windows and Linux accounted for 98.7% of all smartphone shipments in Q4 2012 (IDC Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker, 2/14/2012).

That leaves scant market opportunity for anyone trying to get into this market.

The top five players have already established their positions in the market - with each owning a segment of the market that has substantial (and perhaps insurmountable) barriers to entry.

The OS Players and Their Niches
iOS: Applications galore - at least 700,000 applications from the Apple App Store - plus a hoard of applications available for jailbroken iPhones.  An astonishing 20 Billion application downloads from the App Store in 2012 alone.

Android:  Wide distribution - Open Source and based on Linux.  The fastest growing mobile operating system (80% year-over-year change) and the largest market share (70% in Q4 2012).  A robust Open Source community, and a litany of device vendors have thrown their weight behind this OS.

Windows: Microsoft - enough said.  Windows 8 has the potential to capture significant mobile device market share - blurring the lines between PCs, Notebooks, Tablets and Phones with a single operating system that will actually run real versions of the applications most of us use every day at work.  Although currently only capturing 2.6% of the market (Q4 2012), expect this number to rise.  I've always been a dedicated iOS user (iPhone & iPad), and I'm seriously considering Windows 8 for that reason alone.

BlackBerry: Legacy (and shrinking) installed base.  Granted, that's not a great place to be in this race - it's the undesirable "magical quadrant", so to speak.  But it's good enough to earn them third place and  a 3.2% market share in Q4 2012.  There are a lot of die-hard BB fans out there who want to get their hands on the new BlackBerry 10.

"Others": These are the dead and dying mobile operating systems - like Symbian and WebOS.   Their parent companies, Nokia and HP respectively, have abandoned them - having decided that the world doesn't need yet another mobile OS.  Nokia has adopted Windows and HP recently sold off WebOS to LG Electronics, who will use it for consumer electronics like televisions (WebOS is a a rather nice platform - it deserves a life somewhere).

Why a New OS?
So with pretty much every corner of the mobile OS market sewn up, exactly what was Mozilla thinking?  Where is the "room" in this market for a new OS?

More importantly, what is the need from the consumer perspective?

This is the great marketing fail.  It's as if Mozilla took a look at their wares and said "hmmm... our browser share is tanking...having lost a third of its market share since 2010.  What can we build with what we got??"

This sounds like a classic "engineering #fail" - focus on the technology instead of the consumers' problems and the market opportunity.

The Great Big #FAIL
Although Mozilla can clearly create a mobile operating system that leverages the Web - exactly which consumer problem does this solve that isn't already being solved by iOS, Android, Windows and the other existing players in this space?  What advantage does this new OS bring to the market that disrupts the status quo?  Why would anyone want to buy this product?

It's a classic "technology in search of a problem to solve".

CNet reports "Working in its favor is the fact that Firefox is a browser-based operating system, meaning that Web applications such as Facebook already work for it without the need for Mozilla to marshal an army of programmers to write apps" and "And about attracting app developers, he (Gary Kovacs, Mozilla CEO) quipped, ‘There's a Web for that.'

Well, to massacre a quote from famed author Isaac Asimov, "Quips are the last refuge of the incompetent".

Anyone who uses a smartphone knows that these so-called "Web apps" aren't the answer.  Web apps are the things you build when you want to crank something out quickly and "good enough" is fine.  Nobody really enjoys using a Web app - people want robust applications that really leverage the capabilities of their expensive mobile device.

Gary Kovacs - credit to Stephen Shankland/CNET

Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs speaking about Firefox OS at Mobile World Congress 2013.

Perhaps he's thinking "D-oh! I can't believe I just said 'there's a Web for that'"

(Credit: Stephen Shankland/CNET)

As Larry Seltzer, Editorial Director at Byte Magazine aptly stated, "nobody is happy with lowest common denominator interfaces. BYOD has especially undermined the ability of IT and ISVs to get away with such a strategy. People see all the slick apps that are optimized for their platform and they look down on apps that are plain and unsophisticated."

"Web-based" is Table Stakes
Having a "Web-based" mobile OS is hardly a strategy for success.  I'm not even sure what that means, or why it's an advantage.  Every mobile OS can claim to be "Web based".  It's just that they would rather not do so, as it's not an advantage.  Web based is just table stakes.  It's not a competitive advantage.

As Seltzer states: "It's an old argument, one you especially make when you don't have a strong argument for your hardware or software. This is definitely the case with Firefox OS, but it's even worse than that."

Hope for the Future?
Maybe Vizio will need an OS for their televisions.

More Stories By Hollis Tibbetts

Hollis Tibbetts, or @SoftwareHollis as his 50,000+ followers know him on Twitter, is listed on various “top 100 expert lists” for a variety of topics – ranging from Cloud to Technology Marketing, Hollis is by day Evangelist & Software Technology Director at Dell Software. By night and weekends he is a commentator, speaker and all-round communicator about Software, Data and Cloud in their myriad aspects. You can also reach Hollis on LinkedIn – linkedin.com/in/SoftwareHollis. His latest online venture is OnlineBackupNews - a free reference site to help organizations protect their data, applications and systems from threats. Every year IT Downtime Costs $26.5 Billion In Lost Revenue. Even with such high costs, 56% of enterprises in North America and 30% in Europe don’t have a good disaster recovery plan. Online Backup News aims to make sure you all have the news and tips needed to keep your IT Costs down and your information safe by providing best practices, technology insights, strategies, real-world examples and various tips and techniques from a variety of industry experts.

Hollis is a regularly featured blogger at ebizQ, a venue focused on enterprise technologies, with over 100,000 subscribers. He is also an author on Social Media Today "The World's Best Thinkers on Social Media", and maintains a blog focused on protecting data: Online Backup News.
He tweets actively as @SoftwareHollis

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All opinions expressed in the author's articles are his own personal opinions vs. those of his employer.