Mozilla’s new mobile operating system that will challenge Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android is being positioned as a vehicle that will take the next two billion users online. Yet, in all likelihood, Mozilla will give India — home to 860 million mobile phone users — a miss in 2013.
The Mountain View, California-based maker of internet browser Firefox has tied up with 18 mobile phone operators globally, but none from India figure in that list. A company spokeswoman could not offer any timeline for the India market. The first wave of launches — expected in July — take place in Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Venezuela.
“We are targeting the emerging markets for the first versions. We know that the biggest opportunity in mobile is in this segment and we want to offer a Firefox quality, entry-level smartphone experience in this part of the world,” Mozilla said in an emailed statement in response to an ET questionnaire about the company’s India plans. “However at this time we cannot confirm any specific timeline for when additional markets supporting Firefox OS will be announced.”
India’s mobile phone market is expected to cross 251 million units in 2013, according to Gartner. Catalyst estimates that smartphone sales grew 100% in 2012 to 22 million and that is expected to double this year, driven by cheaper devices, affordable internet access and rising demand from smaller towns.
Analysts attribute Mozilla’s go-slow policy on India, to the peculiar nature of the local telecom market, where operators do not sell subsidised devices in any substantial numbers. This is, to a great extent, because of the predominance of prepaid customers who make up nearly 95% of India’s mobile subscriber base and are not bound by contracts.
“Unlike Latin American markets where carriers sell phones bundled with data plans, in India Mozilla will have to sell the product on their own, which is not an easy task,” said Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at technology research firm Gartner. “With newer mobile operating systems like Tizen (jointly promoted by Samsung and Intel) and Blackberry 10 entering the market this year, new entrants face a tough climb.”
Globally the smartphone market is practically a duopoly with Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS cornering most of it, pushing BlackBerry and Nokia to the fringes. In India, Android, Apple and BlackBerry together account for over 80% of the market, according to market research firm Cyber-Media Research.
However, entering late and gaining on incumbents is not new for Mozilla, the not-for-profit whose open source internet browser Firefox fought a hard battle with the then monopoly leader Microsoft’s Internet Explorer to get to its current market share of about 20% globally. Unlike typical proprietary software companies, Mozilla is looking to promote ‘The Open Web movement, which private, exclusive, proprietary web solutions.