Firefox OS and the unserved billions of the developing world

Last month, I wrote about the announcement of the $25 Firefox OS smartphone, aimed at developing world users who have never owned a smartphone and can't afford a high-end mobile device. An editorial by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry describes how such a device could find an audience of billions, and spur a new ecosystem of developing world developers who make software that's geared not just to the Firefox OS platform, but also to the unique needs of people in the developing world.

The vision of Firefox OS is a contrast to the Zuckerberg plan to supply "Internet" to poor people in the form of an ad-subsidized, all-surveilling walled garden. As Susan Crawford says, "That's not the Internet — that's being fodder for someone else's ad-targeting business. That's entrenching and amplifying existing inequalities and contributing to poverty of imagination — a crucial limitation on human life."

Asking whether the Internet is good or bad for freedom misses the point. It's clear that network technologies have the power to track and control their users, and the power to free and enrich them. The right question to ask is: "How do we get an Internet that does more for freedom?"

Firefox OS sounds like part of the answer.

What about developers? This might be the toughest nut to crack. Any company in mobile is already hard at work trying to keep up with iOS and Android, with scant time to devote to the runners-up. By definition, developing-world consumers have less money than rich-world consumers, and so they're going to be less attractive. But 3 billion people is still a big market, even if they are poor.

What's more, not all developers live in San Francisco or other rich-world tech hubs. Who will make apps for developing world customers? Developing world programmers, probably. When Android started eclipsing iOS's market share, Apple kept pointing out that iOS users spent a lot more money than Android users and therefore it still made sense to develop for iOS first — until Android got too big to ignore.

Why Firefox — yes, Firefox — will become the mobile OS to beat
[Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry/Citeworld]

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