Mozilla's $25 Firefox smartphone: a free/open device for billions of new netizens

Mozilla's sub-$50 Firefox OS smartphones are aimed at countries like India and Indonesia, where devices costing hundreds of dollars are out of reach of hundreds of millions of people. The idea is to bring a smartphone running a free/open operating system that is optimized for Internet access to people who have no net connection at all today.

The phones are slow and only have a few apps, but they're infinitely more useful than a candybar-shaped "feature phone," and with their low pricetag, many people will be able to buy them outright, rather than being beholden to phone companies who subsidize handset purchases through long-term, abusive contracts; and they'll get online using devices that don't lock them into a single company's ecosystem for email, messaging, and apps.

The phones may seem small, underpowered, and short on features to people used to modern Android and iOS phones. But Mitchell Baker, chair of the Mozilla Foundation, said at a press conference here that the devices have to be judged by a different, lower-end standard.

"Imagine the phone in your pocket is a feature phone. Imagine, when you go buy one of these devices, that every euro is precious to you," Baker said. Looking at "the richness and power we're able to offer to this market, you'll be astonished. Then imagine where we can go from there."

Mozilla has found a small niche in the mobile OS market by pursuing its low-end strategy, with the first phones debuting in countries such as Hungary, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, and Greece. Mozilla, a non-profit organization, hopes to use the browser-based operating system to lower the barriers that today keep people locked into ecosystems linking hardware, OS, app store, services, content, and apps.

With Firefox OS, Mozilla begins the $25 smartphone push [Stephen Shankland/Cnet]