Mozilla Shows Off First Two Firefox OS Phones, For Developers Only

Mozilla, the company best known for its Firefox Web browser, on Tuesday finally unveiled the design of the first two smartphones that will run its upcoming Firefox mobile operating system (Firefox OS).

Named “Keon” and “Peak,” the two smartphones are created by a Spanish mobile phone company called Geeksphone and will debut in Europe and Latin America in “the first half of 2013,” according statements a Mozilla spokesperson provided to TPM. But they’re not going to be sold on the mass market. Instead, Mozilla and Geeksphone are restricting them to software developers who want to build apps for Mozilla’s new Firefox OS, a Web-based platform that aims to be even more “open source,” and thus more permissive and flexible for development, than Google’s own Android operating system.As a Mozilla spokesperson told TPM:

“These devices have not been designed for consumers and include pre-release development versions of Firefox OS. Although we know many people are excited to get their hands on Firefox OS, we would urge them to wait until commercial devices are ready and they will be able to get the full experience.”

Getting software developers on board first makes sense if Mozilla wants to compete with the current leaders in the mobile software market — Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS, both of which boast large, robust app stores (particularly Apple’s App Store).

But Mozilla has already spent the past six months since officially announcing Firefox OS working with its community of Web developers to test out the software and mobile apps using simulators for desktop computers and mobile Web viewing through Android phones, for example. And because Firefox OS is based around Web apps rather than native ones like those commonly found on Apple’s iPhones and iPads, it’s been easy to reformat websites as apps for the phone.

As Mozilla Developer Network project manager John Karahalis tweeted on Tuesday: “What makes Firefox OS so great? Any website can be an app. It has not been released, yet already has millions,” including a link to screenshots of some of the website-turned-apps that have been developed, such as ones for Facebook and Pinterest.

So why would Mozilla go to the trouble of partnering with another hardware company, in this case Geeksphone, to create two devices that the mass market will never get to use?

“Making preview developer devices available is crucial to ensure a rich ecosystem is ready when handsets launch for the mass market,” Mozilla’s spokesperson told TPM. “The Geeksphone devices will allow developers to test the capabilities of Firefox OS in a real environment beyond the facilities provided by current emulators. It will be possible to test some characteristics like real performance and interaction with the mobile network.”

Both phones have WiFi antennae and support 3G HSPA cellular network connectivity through the carrier Telefonica. Check out the full specs below, in a screenshot from the Geeksphone website.

Formed in 2009, Geeksphone was the first company to develop Android smartphones, though those have not fared quite so well in sales or reviews compared to the Android devices sold by much larger firms such as Samsung and HTC. TPM reached to Geeksphone for more information and will update when we receive a response.

Mozilla’s first real pieces of Firefox OS hardware lack a firm release date and pricing information, however, vexing some interested developers.

“We hope to be able to share that very soon, in February,” tweeted @MozillaHacks, the company’s official Twitter account for developer relations, on Tuesday. Mozilla plans to make more details available at the Free and Open source Software Developers’ European Meeting (FOSDEM 2013) in Brussels, Belgium, on February 2 and 3.

Mozilla isn’t the only open source software company pursuing grander ambitions to enter the increasingly competitive mobile device software market: Canonical, the firm behind Ubuntu Linux, in early January unveiled its upcoming “Ubuntu for phones” operating system.

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