February 24, 2014, 3:38 PM — BARCELONA -- Mozilla and China-based chip maker Spreadtrum Sunday unveiled a chipset designed for $25 smartphones running the open source Firefox operating system.
That low cost approach is seen as important to attracting potential customers who are moving from a feature phone to their first smartphone, especially in emerging countries. Analysts are already seeing a slowdown in the growth of sales of high end smartphones in developed countries.
The chipset, dubbed the SC6821, runs in a working phone, which Mozilla and Spreadtrum officials showed to reporters and analysts at an event prior to Mobile World Congress here this week. However, they didn't say exactly when it might ship, other than in 2014.
In a statement, Mozilla said that six mobile operators and other partners are interested in selling the device. None are based in the U.S. however.
Mozilla also showed off a reference design phone, dubbed Flame, which is intended to help developers test apps against phones with different amounts of memory. The 4.5-in. display device, running on the new Firefox 1.3 OS, aims to be a medium-priced phone eventually. It runs a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8210 dual core processor clocked at 1.2 GHz.
Mozilla Chairwoman Mitchell Baker said the Firefox OS has reached an "exciting moment for innovation in mobile. Imagine when we have affordable, inexpensive devices all interoperable and with the power of the Web."
"What we are all about is bringing people online," added Mozilla CEO Jay Sullivan. "Tonight's exciting for Mozilla with a $25 smartphone based on Spreadtrum chips. With turnkey designs, you'll see a flood of $25 smartphones. It's not enough to have two OS's [Android and iOS] in the world dominating."
Sullivan described three different Spreadtrum chipsets, but only named one, the SC6821. All will be based on WCDMA and EDGE networks, not faster LTE.
Mozilla has been in the market for the past year with smartphones from three manufacturers in 15 countries in Europe and Latin America and intends to expand to 12 more countries this year.
New Firefix OS devices announced included the ZTE Open C and Open II, Alcatel Onetouch Fire C, Fire E, Fire and the Fire 7 tablet. All run Snapdragon processors.
In future releases, Firefox OS will support LTE as well as universal search for apps or Web content reached by a simple swipe, officials said.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His email address is email@example.com.
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