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Today, one of the big stories in the tech press was the new Firefox OS phones, and how they would compete with others in the marketplace. Right away most news sites focused on the technical specifications along with the potential user base. It's clear that Mozilla is not going after the high end, or even the middle of the road market here. These are meant to be inexpensive devices, competing with feature phones or low end smartphones, bringing a higher user experience to people that can't afford, or don't want to pay for an expensive handset.
From reading the press release I think these Firefox OS phones have a decent chance at gaining market share, especially in developing countries, which is why they were smart to launch in partnership with Telefonica. But I think what is more interesting is how they decided to go with the app model.
The old debate of whether native apps are better than web apps dates back from years ago, and is still not over. Native apps have the advantage of being much easier to discover through a standard app store, and have a performance boost, by running directly on the device and having access to all of the features like GPS, notifications, making calls, etc. On the other hand, native apps are a major problem for companies that need to make apps for all of the platforms out there, and users who may not be on the premiere device that some specific company has decided to support. HTML allows a single web app to work on any device.
The performance issue is hard to judge at this time. Certainly HTML5 bridges most of this gap with things like offline storage and APIs to access phone functions, as for how responsive the Firefox OS apps will be, that remains to be seen. But when reading over the developers documentation in how they are going to handle those apps, I found it to be a brilliant model, which solves the app store issue.
Basically, the main reason why an app store or marketplace is important, is because the web suffers from a discoverability problem. When you're on a mobile device, you don't have time to go search the web for an app that does a certain function that you happen to require. You want a central place that will list all of the apps that are compatible with your phone. So Mozilla will indeed create such a marketplace, but since all of the apps for Firefox OS phones are web based, the way they index those apps is through a simple JSON file that any site can easily add.
All a developer has to do is add the appropriate file and serve it through a special Content-Type of application/x-web-app-manifest+json. Then, they can make it available directly from their site or submit it to the Mozilla marketplace. The site says that they will support paid apps, and gives tips on how to make a fully offline app as well. Since Mozilla is well used to running the Firefox addons site, I would hope they can get the marketplace right.
Personally, I think this is the best of both worlds, and I'm eager to see how well this goes. Here's how you can get started: Mozilla Developer Hub