- Part I
Firefox has been a popular browser globally, holding a close third place (21%), following Google Chrome (37%) and Internet Explorer respectively (29%) see stats. The rest 13% belongs to all others combined. It has its unique appeal due to its open source coding, meaning no proprietary code is used by software developers, providing access to their code so that others can build on it to develop an enhanced program. Open source software products are usually “perceived” by users as trustworthy and safe. Chrome, like Firefox, is also an open source browser, which also took coding help from Firefox in developing its own Chrome version! Well, Firefox has announced of stepping into a new world of mobile operating system (OS) last month, with the same brand name. In a highly innovative, tense and volatile world of mobile operating systems, Firefox has declared its entrance with quite fanfare in the industry. But how far can it go, given the solid footage of Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS in the market?
Well, the history of marketing of OS shows some specific phenomena that need to be understood before answering this question. OS is the software backbone for a smartphone. To understand the marketing of operating systems, we need to untangle the big scenario in the following manner: first, there are proprietary operating systems developed by the hardware producer itself and no concomitant adoption of other operating system is possible, like Apple smartphones using Apple iOS. Apple will only produce smartphones using only its proprietary operating system. Second, OS developed by third parties but have championed (or get a long-term commitment) from another hardware producer to use this system, like Android developed by Google, that is used in Google’s Nexus One phone, also gets commitment from Samsung and other producers to be used in their smartphones. Same is the case with Nokia, where they are using Microsoft’s Windows 8.
The situation gets more complicated when hardware producers step into multiple commitments of different operating systems in their portfolio as well as developing their own proprietary and/or open source operating systems at the same time. For example, Samsung, besides commitment to Android, is also helping in developing operating systems like “Bada” and “Tizen”. By the way, Samsung also offers phones with Windows 8. Nokia, besides adopting Windows operating system, also produces phones with their own operating system called “Symbian”. So how does the marketing of operating systems end-up at the battlefield? Who is my enemy and who is my friend?
- Part II
For consumer products like soap, innovation by a soap producer may outperform another soap producer. However, OS Innovation by a corporation does not necessarily mean that the competing corporation is dead. It largely depends on whether you are purely in the business of developing software, or you have an arm in the hardware production as well. If you are purely an operating system producer, innovation by another corporation means that you are dead. If you are a hardware producer, you have luck! You can save and even excel in the market either by adopting better operating system and discarding the operating system that you developed, or by developing a new system by yourself to be run in your phones. This was evident by actions of Nokia in a highly innovative environment of operating system market, where the market share of Symbian (Nokia’s own system) fell from 47% in 2009 to 4.4% in 2012, prompting them to switch to Microsoft’s Windows system, leaving their own.
So the real difference, from brand producers’ perspective, will be made not merely thinking on whether my own OS will get the market, but thinking on which OS would yield the best value to customers and I can grab the share in hardware sales. Samsung is smart in this sense. They have almost all versions of smartphones that use major operating systems! If you want Android or Windows or Tizen or Bada, Samsung has it all!
Let us get back to Firefox OS. Firefox boasts about its being in the open source world, which has less significance since most operating systems are already there or heading towards it. Well, it is based on HTML5 which has certain advantages over other systems as far as web-integrated apps are concerned. Another advantage is that, there is already a big community of HTML5 apps developers in the market. Therefore, Firefox OS does not require a waiting period to develop skilled programmers like Apple iOS or Google Android had to do in the past.
Here is the bad news. Firefox OS has already been supported by major hardware producers, except Samsung! This would have great implication for Firefox’s future in the OS market. On the other hand, it is extremely important to have support from app developers. Eventually, this is becoming to a “war of two”, between Apple and Samsung (Android OS based hardware) when it comes to mobile apps. Wide availability of apps, either free or paid, has great implication on consumers’ choice of OS because apps make the real difference in customer experience. Until 2012, Apple used to have the highest number of apps available- almost half a million. Guess how many apps Android has in its arsenal. This is also a little over half a million, crossing Apple very recently. With this huge choice of apps already available with competitors, Firefox has a big task ahead of how quickly and efficiently it can match with its grown-up competitors!
Well, Firefox is pretty aware of the situation. Firefox CEO already declared that they are not competing with Google Android (37% globally) or Apple iOS (27% globally) see stats. They would be looking for the third place at the low and mid-range hardware market in the developing countries. I think this is a good time-bound geographic strategy at current scenario. However, in my humble opinion, I am not very hopeful of Firefox’s success in the short-run. It will take a long time to get a footage in the market where strong competitors with huge apps are already there. However, in the long-run, say 5 years down the road, you never know how web would evolve to let smartphone users choose web-integrated apps where Firefox will have its upper-hand, if not by other systems by that time.