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The state of Firefox OS – a report from FOSDEM

The smartphone market is currently dominated by two big systems; Android and iOS. But there are others in the run. With Microsoft struggling to get anyone to voluntarily use Windows Phone, maybe Sailfish OS, Ubuntu Touch and/or Firefox OS will make a difference. It’s this last one I attended a talk about at FOSDEM. So here it goes; The current state of Firefox OS, and what we can expect for the future.

What’s already there?

Except for the visual refresh and performance improvements, which are always nice, Firefox OS has gained support for MMS, dual SIM and multiple resolutions. It is now also possible to import your contacts from GMail and Outlook, there is a new lock screen, and a download manager has been added.

firefox_os_scereenshot

Also new is support for the Firefox Developer Tools, which apparently can also be used on Firefox for Android. Asynchronous pan and zoom (which is now done on the compositor thread) should also make for a smoother user experience.

And, perhaps most significant of all, there is now a 12 week release cycle. This means that for every release of Firefox with an even version number (26, 28, 30), there will be a new version of Firefox OS.

What can we expect?

Haida. That’s the name of Mozilla’s concept. Like Sailfish OS and Ubuntu Touch, Firefox OS will allow the user to switch between apps by swiping from the edge of the screen. Call it Firefox OS’s Alt+Tab, if you will.
There will also be something called “RocketBar”, which is basically the Unity Dash for Ubuntu, but hopefully executed better. RocketBar will replace the Browser Awesome Bar and Adaptive App Search, and will be accessible from the home screen, with a swipe at the top of the screen, or by launching the Browser.

The browser is about to be much more tightly integrated into the system, which only makes sense seeing as Firefox OS is completely web-based.
And for those who don’t like the default home and/or lock screen of Firefox OS, I have some good news; You’ll soon be able to replace those with your own.

On a more technical note, there are also plans for some new Web APIs, like the Datastore and Shared Workers. The Datastore will provide a way for apps to expose their data (contacts, bookmarks, …) to other apps (and the RocketBar) on the device. Shared Workers are, if I remember correctly, a way to do real multi-threading in Javascript.

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With Tizen seemingly out of the race, it will be interesting to see further development on these new mobile platforms. While Jolla has released its first Sailfish OS phone, which it suitable called Jolla, and there are an impressive number of zero Ubuntu Touch phones out there, Firefox OS phones can already be bought in several countries, and Mozilla are working on making them available in more countries as they go. But of course, it all depends on the carriers.

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