Firefox OS gets major feature boost as second rollout wave looms

ZTE Open

Mozilla has updated its Firefox OS smartphone operating system to enable features such as push notifications and MMS, while also sprucing up the new platform in other ways.

In a blog post on Wednesday, the firm best known for its Firefox browser said Firefox OS 1.1 will come to existing phones “soon”, and would also be installed on new phones. It also gave some updates on the next wave of the Firefox OS rollout.

Second wave

The rollout has also been limited thus far: Telefonica is offering the platform in Spain, Colombia and Venezuela, and Deutsche Telekom in Poland.

According to Mozilla, operators’ announcements and other recent reports, the next wave, to take place in the run-up to the holiday season, looks like this:

  • Telefonica: Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay
  • Deutsche Telekom: Germany (with Hungary and Greece “soon”)
  • Telenor: Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro

Of course, because Firefox OS is all about web apps, Android users can also get a flavor of what the apps are like now (spoiler: they’re a wildly mixed bag) by installing the Firefox browser on their smartphones and playing around with the marketplace built into it.

Right now, there are only two Firefox OS handsets on the market, namely Alcatel’s One Touch Fire and ZTE’s Open. Both are cheap, coming in at around $80-$90. Mozilla still hasn’t said whether the second wave of Firefox OS’s rollout will involve new devices — Huawei, LG and maybe even Sony will also be making handsets based on the platform, but no solid details have emerged yet.

New features

Those manufacturers may well be biding their time in order to see how the early devices take with the public. That would be smart – this is very much a platform in its early stages of development, as we can see by looking at the kinds of enhancements included in Firefox OS 1.1.

Multimedia messaging, or MMS, is a case in point. Granted, I don’t know a single person who actually uses it, but it’s been a standard feature of mobile phones for a decade or so. Push notifications, too, are something you’d just expect to see in a smartphone.

It’s also good to see Firefox OS gain the ability to import contacts from Gmail and Hotmail – previously, it could only draw on contacts saved to the SIM card or held in Facebook. The platform now also suggests phone numbers when you start dialling, and makes it easier to add any phone number to the contacts list. Calendar events now send reminders.

Browser downloads are now enabled (strange that it took so long, considering the OS’s roots), email attachments can be downloaded, the keyboard now does auto-correct, and app load times and scrolling are supposedly faster and smoother.

Meanwhile, adaptive app search – a key feature of Firefox OS – has now been given prominence on the homescreen. There’s also a new music search facility.

Again, most of this is Mozilla playing catch-up. But considering that the first Firefox OS handsets only went on sale in July, it does seem the platform is evolving quickly. Quickly enough? We’ll see. But as I’ve said repeatedly, the enthusiasm of the carriers counts for a lot – combined that with the low price point, and Firefox OS may well have a bright future.

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