Is This the Next Android?

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Do you remember the original goals of the Android platform and Google's (NAS: GOOG) very own Nexus phones? Here's a little reminder from the Nexus One introduction:

Android was developed with one simple idea: open up mobile devices to enable greater innovation that will benefit users everywhere. ... Android allows devices to be built faster, and at lower cost. And anyone can build anything on top of the platform. This ultimately benefits users.

Admirable goals, no? But the Nexus One largely failed to meet these lofty aspirations, and it died an ugly death only a few months later. Other Nexus-branded devices did better, and they tend to deliver on the "built faster" promise better than non-Google Androids, but the platform as a whole remains splintered, slow to roll out software updates, and not as user-friendly as Google once envisioned.

The Mozilla foundation wants to do everything that Android never quite managed to accomplish. The foundation has teamed up with global network operator Telefonica (NYS: TEF) , mobile-chip giant Qualcomm (NAS: QCOM) , and networking-hardware builder Alcatel-Lucent (NYS: ALU) to build the Firefox Mobile OS. That's a respectable stable of launch partners, and the Firefox name itself is becoming a household name, too. The stage has been set for a very interesting experiment in mobile software here.


This is a lightweight system based on existing industry standards -- basically just a Web browser wrapped around some basic smartphone hardware. The nonprofit's business plan is not to make billions of dollars, but to "promote openness, innovation, and opportunity on the Web for users and developers."

The simple architecture does away with layers and layers of complicated programming interfaces, which should allow low-end hardware to provide respectable performance. Mozilla claims that 75% of Android and Apple (NAS: AAPL) apps are already built as HTML5 pages wrapped in a shell of proprietary technologies, so developers should have an easy time converting their apps to the new platform.

Telefonica aims this effort at emerging markets where cost is a bigger consideration than top-shelf performance. I'm a little worried about the security implications of the simplified Firefox framework, but the open-sourced code benefits from the intense scrutiny of innumerable eyeballs, which tend to defeat security challenges before they become an issue.

Firefox phones might hit the targets Google missed. Not that Big G would mind terribly -- Google is a major investor in the Mozilla movement, and the two organizations share a common goal of simply improving the end user's experience on the Internet. The smartphone market is plenty big enough for several strong suppliers -- especially when Google skims profits off the online activities of even its fiercest rivals, versus Apple's powerful model and tight end-to-end integration, which you can learn more about here.

At the time this article was published Fool contributorAnders Bylundowns shares in Google but holds no other position in any of the companies mentioned. Check outAnders' holdings and bio, or follow him onTwitterandGoogle+.The Motley Fool owns shares of Qualcomm, Google, and Apple.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Google and Apple and creating a bull call spread position in Apple.  We Fools don't all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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