Mozilla Shows Off Firefox OS & Smartphones in New York City

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While smartphones built on Firefox OS aren’t yet available through US wireless carriers, Mozilla showed off the features of the first two Firefox phones — including Adaptive App Search and the Firefox Marketplace — at a press event in New York City this week.

Less than three months after Mozilla’s announcement of the ZTE Open and Alcatel One Touch Fire, Firefox OS-enabled phones are now being sold through wireless providers in Spain, Poland, Colombia, and Venezuela, said Erica Jostedt, a Mozilla spokesperson, speaking with Brighthand on Thursday night at Pepcom’s Holiday Spectactular! event in New York City.

A quick check of eBay just afterward showed the Open being sold unlocked on eBay for around $80, and the One Touch Fire for about $190. As rumor has it, some users in the US are buying these phones and getting wireless service for them through companies like Cricket Wireless.

Mozilla’s main purpose for attending Holiday Spectacular! revolved around talking up new holiday-themed and price comparison shopping plug-ins for the Mozilla Web browser. Yet vast hordes of users haven’t yet seen Firefox OS. So to quell curiosity, Mozilla trotted out the Open and One Touch Fire for journalists who asked.

The two phones are targeted largely at users who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford smartphones, according to Jostedt. The demo units at the Pepcom show weren’t hooked up to a wireless network, but Mozilla demo’d some of the apps and how to find them.

Notifications Panel, Email Setup Wizard, Multitasking

The UI includes a Notifications Panel — accessible by swiping down from the top of the screen — which notifies you about missed calls, voicemails, and SMS text messages while also letting you quickly go into settings for the phone, data usage, WiFi, operator data, Bluetooth, and airplane mode.

There’s also an email setup wizard for setting up mail services such as Gmail, Windows Live Mail, and Yahoo! Mail. Through a manual setup option, you can set up mailboxes for use with Microsoft Exchange, SMTP, and IMAP mail providers. You can view photos and add them as attachments from within an app called Photo Gallery.

Photo Gallery also includes image editing features for cropping, increasing or decreasing exposure, and adding borders and other special effects, for instance.

As we saw at the event, other built-in apps include Facebook, SMS, the Firefox Web browser, FM Radio, Video Player, Nokia HERE Maps, Internet Sharing (for using the phone as a WiFi hotspot), and Music. Through the Music app, you can add MP3, AAC, and WAV audio files to your phone and sort them by playlist, artist, or album.

For multitasking, you can switch between running apps by swiping the app windows to the left or right, and you can stop apps from running either by pressing the “x” or swiping the apps window up.

In a few minutes of hands-on with the ZTE Open, we found the display to be bright, the swiping to be smooth, and the touch screen to be springy and responsive.

Firefox Marketplace & Adaptive App Search

Basically, there are two types of Firefox OS apps in the Firefox Marketplace: packaged and hosted. A packaged app consists of a zip file containing all of of an apps assets: HTML, CSS, JavaScript, images, manifest, etc. A hosted app is run from a Web server.

Jostedt said that she doesn’t know how many apps are available through Firefox Marketplace. “But we only launched a few months ago, and new ones are being added all the time,” she contended.

Jostedt also told us that developers in other countries are using Mozilla’s open source development platform to build “local” apps — such as apps specific to local schools and churches.

Mozilla also showed Adaptive App Search, for finding Web apps on the Internet which are related to your interests by typing in a search term. (In the demo, Jostedt used “Coca Cola” as the search term.)

According to Jostedt, developers have used Mozilla’s Web APIs to enable Web apps to  access features of the phone (such as the camera, telephony, messaging, and Bluetooth) which were previously only available to native apps.

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