I always thought the LG FX0 was a beautiful phone, but it launched exclusively in Japan. So after the initial envy, I moved on.
Until recently, that is, when I saw that the device was now to around $50. That’s basically 1/8th its original price.
This international model isn’t actually running Firefox OS, despite the logo engraved in the home button. It’s now powered by B2G OS. This, it turns out, is the community-run project that Firefox OS has become.
This begs several questions. Does this mean Firefox OS is still alive? Does it have a future? And why would anyone pick it over Android or iOS?
What Do They Call Firefox OS These Days?
Firefox OS remains Firefox OS… on smart TVs and other connected devices. It’s the smartphone business that Mozilla has abandoned, and it’s here that things get complicated.
Firefox OS is the user-facing name, but developers refer to the project as “Boot to Gecko”. You can loosely compare this to the relationship between Google Chrome and Chromium.
Firefox OS on smartphones now goes by the name B2G OS, short for Boot to Gecko OS. This way users don’t mistakenly believe that Mozilla is still invested in the project. While the company is continuing efforts to put Firefox OS on gadgets, those plans don’t include phones. There, the community is largely on its own.
Does B2G OS Have a Future?
Hopefully. Mozilla has committed to transferring control over to the community. Various developers have stepped up to adopt certain apps. Meetings take place on a regular basis.
But right now, the project is playing catch up. Priorities consist around making it possible to update existing Firefox OS devices to new versions of B2G OS. Developers are also hoping to expand B2G OS to other hardware.
There isn’t much talk yet of adding new features or creating new apps. Maybe B2G OS will get there someday, but for now, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work going on in other areas. One focus is making it easier to keep B2G OS in line with future Firefox browser updates, so that the web experience remains reliable and secure.
— Mozilla B2G (@Boot2Gecko) September 5, 2016
But Does B2G OS Need a Future?
I’ve used B2G OS on my primary phone for about a week now, and it’s been a great experience. Placing calls, sending texts, writing email, taking photos, visiting websites, and listening to music all work out of the box. This constitutes most of what I want to do with a phone.
The Firefox Marketplace is still up and running. The majority of what I’ve downloaded is either rough around the edges or entirely non-functional, but there are a few gems. I’ve found a decent podcast player, a calculator, a file manager, a flashlight app, HERE Maps navigation, and a way to take notes. If you need more, there are more where that came from.
Frankly, I don’t need much more than that. I made this clear when describing how I’ve been using an Android phone Google-free.
There are bugs, and it would be nice to have copy and paste without needing to install a special keyboard. But in its current state, B2G OS is providing a better experience than I used to have on feature phones, and we used to buy those without any expectation of future updates.
I want to see B2G OS reach a point where security patches come in as new vulnerabilities are discovered. I would also like a way to maintain access to non-default apps if Mozilla ever decides to shut down the Marketplace. Aside from that, I don’t particularly need new software.
It’s early days for me and B2G OS, but I do hope it’s easy to install and stable on more phones by the time I’m ready to replace my phone in a few years — even if it’s only a few well-supported models.
Why Use B2G OS Over Android or iOS?
This is an inherently subjective question, so I’ll speak for myself.
The promise of B2G OS, to me, is an open phone that’s capable of meeting modern mobile needs and doing so without the excess.
In many ways, a B2G OS device is similar to a Chromebook. Both are browsers trying to act as “full” operating systems. If someone needs functionality not currently satisfied, an HTML5 app isn’t hard for a web developer to throw together. But the end result won’t be as powerful as a native app designed for Android or iOS.
And that’s okay. Like a Chromebook, B2G OS is a joy in part because it’s simple. There are fewer apps, customization options, updates to manage, and settings to dive through. Our society is struggling with smartphone addiction, and I’m all for changes that make these devices demand less time.
Then there’s the difference in philosophy. Android and iOS both benefit from having as many users as possible cling to either platform. Apps only work on their native operating systems, and it takes time to port them to others.
B2G OS encourages people to use the web, not apps. Mobile web sites are open to everyone. That’s a distinction that benefits all smartphone users regardless of their chosen platform.
My “Firefox phone” is a great phone for me, and as long as the software continues to work a year from now, it will remain so. In some ways, it’s refreshing not to have to worry about waking up to apps and icons that have been completely redesigned. It’s also nice knowing I’m not dependent on being a B2G OS user in order to continue doing what I’m used to. The platform doesn’t try to lock me in. That gives me the comfort to keep using it.
I’m not alone. Over half a year after Mozilla abandoned smartphones, an instant messaging client for Firefox OS is apparently still getting around 50,000 installations a month.
— Adán Witnet (@aesedepece) July 25, 2016
The interest is there, even if B2G OS never becomes the competitive third choice Mozilla wanted it to be.
Should You Install B2G OS?
I would describe B2G OS as a smartphone for digital minimalists. Most of the core functionality is there, even if the apps aren’t. Plus without the extra weight, the battery life is great. Think days, not hours.
This is not the platform for you if WhatsApp is your primary form of communication. And if you thrive on being plugged into social media at all times, B2G OS will let you access the mobile sites, but that’s not as smooth as having dedicated apps.
People who have replaced portable game consoles with their phones may not find much to love here as well.
But if you approach the platform as a smart feature phone, you’re more likely to walk away satisfied. This is a smartphone platform that embraces the open web and the values of free software.
Have you ever used Firefox OS or B2G OS? What did you think? If you haven’t, are you interested? What do you think of open source mobile platforms in general? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so let’s talk!