Firefox OS: Impressions from Reviews and Demos

Firefox OS has now been seen in the wild, with inexpensive phones going on sale in Spain this week. From the reviews I have read, and from the demonstrations I have seen, the release of Firefox OS really looks like a challenger to Android than to anyone else.

The reviews are generally positive, in that they can't find much wrong with the OS. It's pretty much a standard display, much like Android or iPhone (or WebOS), not something radical like Windows Phone. The apps, which are in the Firefox Marketplace seem pretty sparse, but really cover the general gambit you would expect from any phone OS. Sure, you don't have everything that Android or iPhone has in their marketplace, but you have the essentials and some fun little tools that would make the phone useful.

The real catch for Firefox OS is the price tag. It's priced to be competitive with the low end Android phones, those that still run Gingerbread and are the bane of Google in their hopes to see faster adoption of the latest and greatest Android OSes. From the reviews I have seen, Firefox OS manages to do that easily, making an easy bid for the low-end smartphone market.

So who should be worried about Firefox OS? Honestly, it's going to put the push on the number of Android activations. Why? Because while it is a pretty solid OS in and of itself, it runs on less expensive hardware, like low end Android phones. The apps are all free (at least the first 200 or so that I looked at), meaning that you can buy the phone and be up and running, just like low end Android phones. All that, and you have the most recent OS available for you, instead of a 3 year old OS on your brand new phone.

At this price point, you most likely are not going to have big spenders in Android, and with such an old OS running, probably not a lot of brand loyalty. Moving to another OS that is just as solid and provides replacement apps for free wouldn't be that hard. Market-wise, Firefox is playing it smart, not trying to compete at the high end like Microsoft where brand loyalty is running high, but rather shooting for the entry market for smartphones, where people are just looking for that experience.

So should Google be quaking in their boots? Absolutely not! Google's Android has matured, and with Samsung's Galaxy doing so well, they don't have to worry about lower end markets going to another OS. Likewise Apple doesn't have to worry, as their market share is pretty much defined.

So, who has to worry? Microsoft. Windows Phone 8, as solid an OS as I have found it to be, doesn't seem to be doing very well in the overall market. Ideally, Nokia and Microsoft should have really tackled the low end market as Firefox has, and now they will face some competition. Of course the low end smartphone market is a double-edged sword, as that small price point would make it easy for someone to move from one OS to another, and without paid apps, there is no equity placed within an ecosystem.

So what do you think? Has anyone had hands-on experience with Firefox OS? What are your impressions?