The $25 phone project Mozilla had in mind is now over. According to a letter from company CEO Chris Beard to the team, “We will reconsider the ultra-low-cost smartphone program (e.g. Tarako). We have not seen sufficient traction for a $25 phone, and we will not pursue all parts of the program. We will focus on efforts that provide a better user experience, rather than focusing on cost alone.”
What Mozilla needs at this point is a spark, and the company is hoping to create a new demand with the general consumer base through its “Ignite” initiative. While Project Ignite has only been active for a few weeks, it involves building a better user experience, rather than providing a budget-friendly smartphone to pull consumers over to the platform. There are a number of budget-friendly smartphones available on Windows and Android, and those phones don’t appeal to most consumers. Even with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus’s 1.3Ghz and 1.4Ghz processors, clocked speeds don’t match those of top Android smartphones such as the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge, people still pay a high price – so there has to be something more than just a perfect price point.
Chris Beard was at Mozilla before leaving to go to Greylock Partners, after which he’s now returned to Mozilla. With his past experience at the company, he wants to take Mozilla in a similar direction by giving the company’s web browser a way to stand out – like it did in earlier days. “Firefox won converts by providing compelling end-user value; it was clean, simple, fast, secure and open standards based and offered innovations (e.g. tabbed browsing, pop-up blocking, etc.) that advanced the power of the online experience while at the same time reducing some of its annoyance. Likewise, for Firefox OS to win converts, it needs to offer compelling advantages to users (i.e., the right combination of product features, desired apps, pricing, etc.) that will drive people to seek out our products,” Beard said.
In the end, it is this combination (apps, features, pricing) that will win consumers. Most tech analysts focus on apps and spend time downplaying other aspects such as product features. If we’re honest, there are enough apps in the world. Companies looking to compete should have more than apps to entice customers. Some customers would rather have full functionality of a device out-of-the-box than spend time downloading Candy Crush, for example because Candy Crush is the favorite in the iOS App Store. Apps are the responsibility of developers; product features are the responsibility of manufacturers – and Mozilla must do all it can to win on this front.
To aid on this front, Mozilla has turned to Firefox for iOS and has gathered testers to examine how the new web browser will work on the Apple OS. As with all web browsers, however, users value security and privacy. What Mozilla’s Firefox will do for iOS users, however, is get them comfortable with a new web browser. Once users warm up to the web browser, however, they may be willing to invest in a Mozilla product without the hesitations and uncertainty that plague many first-time users. The web browser is only part of the equation, but it’s a big one.
In the end, the consumer market doesn’t need $25 phones. Every manufacturer who plays a part in the “how-low-can-you-go” price game only stands to lose. At some point, you lose money to continue innovating, conducting research to satisfy your consumer base, and funds to please your investors. What the consumer market needs to see is more smartphones not just running an OS by a different name, but smartphones that continue to make the case for their existence. There are numerous Android and Windows Phone devices that merely exist on the market with a low price point but offer little in the way of a compelling experience.
Let’s hope Mozilla’s new Ignite project gives consumers something to get excited about.