Once upon a time, Microsoft owned a 90 percent share in the browser market. Explorer appeared unbeatable, tied to Microsoft’s dominant Windows, and fresh from crushing former market leader Netscape.
What took down the giant? Well, lots of things, but largely Mozilla with its open-source Firefox browser.
Today the shape of the mobile operating system market looks much the same, if diversified to some degree. You’ve got Apple and Google at the top, with iOS and Android respectively, with Microsoft making a play for relevance. They’re all huge players backed by other dominant products.
And here comes Mozilla again, this time with its browser-based Boot to Gecko mobile operating system similar in some respects to both Google’s Chrome OS and Palm’s failed webOS . The company announced the system at the Mobile World Congress in February and recently announced that the first Boot to Gecko phone would come out in Brazil in early 2013, in a partnership with Telefonica (yet another bold move by Telefonica – and you can read about that here and here and here).
According to the International Business Times, “Mozilla and Telefonica will jointly launch the Open Web Devices platform and it will be based on web apps and HTML5 offering developers complete access to core device APIs. Capabilities including calling, messaging, browsing and gaming will be developed as HTML5 applications and will be executed via experiences based on the Firefox browser.”
So why might Boot to Gecko thrive? Here are three possible reasons:
1. HTML5 is the future: We’ve written about the rise of HTML5 before. If the mobile world really does throw off apps for the mobile web, that could disrupt even the Apple juggernaut.
In a keynote at the recent CTIA conference in New Orleans, Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs predicted a “momentous platform shift” in the mobile world and predicted that there will be 2 billion HTML5-compliant devices by 2016 and that walled app stores will inevitably fall.
"Will one or two companies be able to curate the interests of five to six billion people around the world?" he asked.
2. Mozilla is aiming at the right market: It is no accident that the first Boot to Gecko phone will come out in a rapidly developing market like Brazil with a forward-thinking Latin American-focused operator like Telefonica. From a Rethink Wireless post:
[Mozilla] sees this as an easier way to deliver a full mobile experience to fairly humbly specified, and low cost, hardware … By relying on streaming and hosted services, the need for expensive local storage and processing is reduced.
If most feature phone owners in the world can’t afford an iPhone, what will they buy? Maybe Mozilla. And the first Boot to Gecko phones (complete with a catchier new name) will apparently be 10 times cheaper than the iPhone.
3. Things change … even for Apple and Google.
Mobile is simply an immensely disruptive space right now, with mobile operating systems like Symbian, MeeGo and webOS just a few examples of once significant players discarded by a ruthless market.
And, as Steve Costello asked in a post on the GSMA website, might Google get bored with Android?
When Android begins to look as if its time has come, will Google feel the need to shoulder the burden of refreshing the platform from the ground up? Or will it feel that this role now falls to someone else, either evolving the open source Android code or through a shift to a completely fresh platform?
If the aim of Android is to drive use of mobile internet services by consumers, it is job done. And there are no shortage of platforms that – could – fill the gap created by the departure of Android.
This brings us back to the rise of Firefox. No one thought Microsoft could be beaten. But they could. Same goes for Apple and Google.
And who’s to say that Mozilla (with help from operators like Telefonica) can’t take down a giant twice?