Tag Archives: firefox

Cutting off Huawei could kill it, or kill tech monopolies

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

Huawei press conference ces 6jan2014

Conventional wisdom is that Huawei can’t survive without access to U.S. technology. It was cut off from access to U.S. customers and vendors last week, although the toughest sanctions were delayed for three months earlier this week. If and when those sanctions take full effect, two companies – ARM and Google – say they’ll stop selling Huawei licenses to use two essential building blocks of the mobile industry – ARM’s chip designs and Google’s Android ecosystem. Huawei could be cutoff from similarly essential technology in other industry segments, for example the Windows operating system.

It’s dangerous to assume, however, that any company, let alone one as big and ambitious and well supported as Huawei will just roll over die. The company has said it’s kept a Plan B on the back burner for several years, which require it to launch its own operating system, to replace Android and Windows, and develop advanced chip technology in house.

There’s a lot of skepticism about a Huawei OS. The assumption is that it would be based on the open source bits of Android, but wouldn’t be able to gain any more uptake than past alternate mobile OS attempts, such as Tizen, Firefox or Sailfish. The counter argument is that the Chinese market is already semi-isolated from the global app and service ecosystem. If Huawei gets developer support and user adoption on its home turf – not a far out possibility – it could become the mythical third mobile OS that so many competitors – Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung, Canonical, Mozilla, [Blackberry] –(https://www.tellusventure.com/blog/blackberry-shares-the-big-one-with-the-cops/) have failed to capture.

Chipsets are a tougher problem, but there could be hardware workarounds, according to a TechRepublic article by James Sanders

In terms of hardware, Huawei is far from self-sufficient. Their HiSilicon division licenses the Arm ISA for use in Kirin smartphone SoCs and Kunpeng server CPUs. HiSilicon already possesses the requisite information to manufacture chips based on the technology, and they can continue to design ARMv8-powered chips without the involvement of Arm Holdings, which has cut ties with Huawei. The actual production of these is handled by TSMC, which is one of the few organizations continuing work with Huawei…

There are still options for Huawei…Samsung, LG, and BOE are potential vendors for displays, and Sony and Leica can provide lenses and sensors for cameras. Flash storage and RAM may be an issue, as Toshiba and Micron are used, though SK Hynix provides RAM on some devices, and Samsung can likewise supply both.

It’s too soon to know with any degree of certainty how this battle in the U.S.-China trade war will play out. It could just be another round of brinkmanship, and president Donald Trump has all but admitted that’s what this is all about. But if it isn’t, the result could be a global scale competitor to some cherished de facto technology monopolies, which are either based in the U.S. or dependent on intellectual property that’s rooted here. That would be good for the market, but it’s not exactly what the Trump administration has in mind.

Billion dollar fine, new management and “security guarantees” gains ZTE U.S. access

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

ZTE is back in business. The Chinese mobile phone and network equipment manufacturer paid $1.4 billion in fines and replaced its board of directors in order to make peace with the U.S. government. The federal commerce department effectively shut ZTE in May when it cut off access to U.S.-made products, including high end chips and key bits of the Android mobile operating system.

The problems began when the U.S. government accused ZTE of doing business with Iran and North Korea, in violation of U.S. trade sanctions. ZTE’s response wasn’t robust enough to suit the U.S. government, so the company was cut off from U.S. technology and had to close its doors, albeit temporarily. That kicked off a round of what passes for superpower diplomacy these days, according to a story in Bloomberg

President Donald Trump reversed course in May, saying he was reconsidering penalties on ZTE as a personal favor to Chinese President Xi Jinping. Later that month, his administration announced it would allow the company to stay in business after paying a new fine, changing its management and providing “high-level security guarantees”…

ZTE last month took a major step forward in meeting the White House’s conditions by firing its entire board and appointing a new chairman. Its new management faces the challenge of rebuilding trust with phone companies and corporate customers. But the company is said to be facing at least $3 billion in total losses from a months-long moratorium that choked off the chips and other components needed to make its networking gear and smartphones.

ZTE isn’t alone. Huawei, China’s biggest mobile phone maker (ZTE is number two), is also in the Trump administration’s crosshairs. The Federal Communications Commission is considering locking both companies out of federally subsidised projects, because of security concerns. That same kind of thinking led the Trump administration to block the sale of Californian chipmaker Qualcomm to a Singapore based company, Broadcom.

It’s appropriate for the U.S. government to worry about national security, and to take specific steps to meet specific threats. But conflating security with economic advantage is a losing game. The best guarantee of national security is shared economic interests, not trade barriers. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, perhaps egregiously, those who would give up a free market to purchase a little temporary security will get neither.

ZTE shutdown could lead to a mobile OS startup

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

A major Chinese smart phone and telecoms infrastructure manufacturer was stopped cold by U.S. trade sanctions, after it 1. did business with Iran contrary to U.S. rules and 2. didn’t adequately punish the executives responsible for the violation. ZTE announced last week that “the major operating activities of the company have ceased”. It’s number two smart phone maker in China, behind Huawei, but has a low profile among U.S. consumers.

The U.S. commerce department issued an order that bans U.S. companies from doing business with ZTE. Since technology developed in the U.S. – much of it here in California – is critical to high technology products, ZTE had no choice but to shut down. It might be temporary, though, according to an article by Roger Cheng on CNET

The company had to shut down its operations to comply with the order, but it continues to talk with US government officials about a potential stay or reconsideration of the denial order, according to a person familiar with the situation.

“Ceasing operations does not mean we’re going away,” the person said, noting that ZTE has a cash reserve and could eventually tap into financing to stay alive.

The company is also pegging its hopes on broader discussions between US and Chinese officials in their bilateral trade talks – ZTE is expected to be a topic of conversation brought up on the Chinese side, the person said.

One critical piece of technology that ZTE can’t have is Google’s Android operating system, or at least the bells and whistles that go along with it. Android’s core is open source, but linked elements, like the Google Play store and many of the apps in it, are proprietary and now off limits.

ZTE won’t just roll over die. The commerce department’s order might even serve to weaken the Apple/Google mobile operating system duopoly. Of the two ZTE smart phones I’ve owned, one was based on the Firefox mobile OS. It didn’t go anywhere in the market and was eventually shelved, but it shows that ZTE knows its options.

ZTE turbocharging Firefox mobile OS with two new phones

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , ,

LG is in the Firefox game too.

The Firefox OS smart phone universe is expanding. ZTE, which launched the Open last year, essentially as a software developers’ kit, will be unveiling two new phones based on Mozilla’s open source, HTML5-centric operating system. The expected Wednesday announcement will launch the Open C and Open 2 smart phones, which are pegged to move up the value chain with more features than the $80 Open.

Two other Firefox phones were on display at the Pepcom event at CES this evening: the LG Fireweb, which is currently available in Brazil, and the Alcatel One Touch Fire. As the gap between mobile and traditional consumer electronic and computing products continues to narrow, mobile OSes are finding their way onto fixed platforms. The Firefox OS is no different. Panasonic has a Firefox smart TV in development, with availability expected before the end of 2014. Foxconn is building a Firefox tablet.

The more devices and the more carriers that support Firefox, the more apps, services and content will become available. Whether it’ll gain enough momentum to put a dent in Android’s or iOS’s market share is another question. Between them, the two dominant mobile operating systems have more than 90% of the mobile device market.

Firefox has the potential of claiming a distant third place, though. Of the HTML5 based OSes launched last year, it’s gained support from the broadest range of manufacturers. It costs less than Android and app development should eventually be far easier, assuming that HTML5 is finally wrestled into submission. With smart phone and tablet growth expected to increasingly shift to developing markets, those advantages should be enough to keep it in the game.

HTML5 pace set by carrier dog days, not developer dog years

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , ,

Puppies for a while longer.

The Firefox OS is built to run thin client HTML5 applications, which depend heavily on network connections to store data and offload processing. So far, the available applications are a promising mixed bag, at least judging by performance on the first readily available Firefox phone, the ZTE Open.

Both the Facebook and, particularly, the Twitter apps are consumer-ready, but most of the other available apps are little more than browser bookmarks that take you to a website. The included email and calendar apps work well with both Google and Apple services, and deliver a smooth user experience. The address book, though, needs a lot of help. It’ll only sync with Google contacts and it’s not well integrated with the phone – dialling directly from a contact is a clunky chore and it’s difficult to, for example, reply quickly to a phone call with a text message.

Mozilla is just one of the companies betting that HTML5 will fullfil its promise of “write once, run everywhere” apps. Tizen and Sailfish are also counting on a spontaneous wellspring of developer support as the language matures, although both of these Nokia MeeGo-descended OSes are also hoping to grow proprietary ecosystems. Jolla released its SDK for the Sailfish OS earlier this week, with a heavy emphasis on its support for Android applications.

The challenge for HTML5 developers is to find a proper balance of on-board functions and network services. Achieving acceptable performance depends on the speed of mobile broadband connections, so the speed of development will be governed, to a large degree, by the upgrade plans of carriers. With other alternative OSes available, developers might not want to wait.

Firefox OS performing as well as it can on ZTE Open SDK

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , , ,

Twitter top pick on Firefox app store.

The Firefox mobile operating system is clearly a work in progress, but that said, it works well enough already. I’ve been using a ZTE Open Firefox phone for three months, and can do most of the things I need to do and, as time goes on and software is released, more of the things I’d like to do.

The OS performs better than Bada, which I used for about a year on a Samsung handset. There’s more software available and it’s a snappier, less frustrating experience. On the other hand, it’s not as smooth or well stocked with apps as my two-year old LG Android phone. All three are in the same, low end price range.

The phone itself is well worth the $80 I paid for it. In its current form, it’s effectively a software developers’ kit rather than a consumer product, but even so it performs well. It also sold well – the first thousand phones were gone in hours. ZTE has been following up with purchasers, as it irons out bugs and extends the platform’s capabilities.

The Open lacks LTE connectivity, as did the unlocked Android phones that ZTE previewed at the Pepcom Holiday Spectacular in San Francisco last month. Which is a problem for developers, since the Firefox OS is built on HTML5, which in turn depends on fast connections between tiny apps and big servers.

On the consumer side, a ZTE product manager said that he didn’t think users would notice the lack of LTE on unlocked phones. Or maybe he’s just hoping they won’t. His argument was that since LTE networks are getting slammed by heavy traffic from high end phones, value conscious buyers will be happier with what he considered to be less crowded 3G bands. By that logic, though, they should be overjoyed using 2G Edge networks. Good luck with that.

ZTE might get some developer love with cheap Firefox phone

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , , ,

Or it might be chasing its tail.

ZTE isn’t big in the U.S. Only the least of the four major mobile carriers – Sprint – offers a branded ZTE smart phone on its website and then just a single model. Its only distinguishing feature is the number of flaming negative reviews written by unhappy buyers.

With little to lose, ZTE is bypassing mobile carriers and going direct-to-geek by selling an unlocked $80 phone – the Open – running the new Firefox mobile operating system on eBay.

It’s a quad band GSM device, which pretty much targets customers running on AT&T’s network, either directly or via a reseller. Since T-Mobile’s 3G service primarily operates on the 1700/2100 MHz bands its usefulness there is limited, particularly since the HTML5-based Firefox OS is heavily dependent on full time connectivity.

But for eighty bucks, how can you go wrong? So I just ordered one, even though I’m a T-Mobile customer.

Selling a wonky phone with a niche OS on eBay isn’t a mass market strategy. It’s really a quick and dirty way to get what amounts to a development kit into the hands of would-be app developers. Judging from the sales numbers on its eBay listing, ZTE has sold about 700 Open phones in about a day.

That’s not going to do much for ZTE’s global ranking. Along with Huawei, LG and Lenovo, ZTE is a solid member of the five percent club, the distant pack of smart phone makers chasing Samsung and Apple, which account for about half the market between them. Even so, ZTE is beginning to eat into Apple’s share.

That trend is likely to continue. Apple focuses exclusively on high end devices, while Samsung offers something at pretty much every price point. As volume manufacturers increasingly target the sub-$100 end of the market, they’ll gain share at Apple’s expense. Using a cheap, stripped down OS helps, but they’ll need a lot of help from developers. Seeding the dev community with a few hundred Firefox phones could be a good way to get it.

Tizen Foundation throws candy at mobile app devs

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , ,

Game on.

A $4 million lolly scramble is underway to jump start the Tizen mobile operating system’s app store. The Tizen Foundation announced a developers’ competition with individual prizes that could go as high as $250,000, and released a new version of the software developer kit for the Linux-based and HTML5-centric OS.

Among other things, Tizen is Samsung’s coming replacement for bada, its in-house smart (or at least modestly bright) phone OS. While bada is a very functional, if lower end, platform, it’s suffered from a lack of developer love. The shelves of its app store are sparsely stocked, a problem this competition is designed head off.

The rules give some clue as to Tizen’s planned market positioning. Game developers can compete for $200,000 (with an extra $50,000 offered for using HTML5). Entries will be judged on “entertainment value, visual design, performance, and controls and input.” Duller productivity apps are only worth a $120,000 top prize, plus the $50,000 HTML5 bonus.

The emphasis on games says that Tizen’s roll out will focus on younger, value conscious users, while the spiffs for HTML5 put it in direct competition with Mozilla’s Firefox OS, which soft-launched this month in Spain.

Housed at the Linux Foundation, the Tizen project is also backed by Intel. Not surprisingly, the SDK supports both ARM and x86 builds and, assuming HTML5 works as intended, apps should run equally well with either chip architecture.

Deadline to enter is technically 1 November 2012, but there’s a catch: to be eligible, an app has to be approved by the Tizen store, a process which could take days or even several weeks. Not quite as easy as diving for treats, but just as much fun.

HP’s hope is going up the down staircase

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

Can HP face Palm again?

There’s a new report that Hewlett-Packard might be about to jump into the mobile phone business. Its last such venture – the capture and rapid slaughter of Palm and its webOS in 2010 – is generally regarded as a disaster. But HP has to try again. It has no choice.

Computer sales are slipping, both for HP and the industry in general as tablet sales climb. It does make a Windows tablet, but that pretty much says it all. Hardly anyone is buying them.

The big question for HP is: does it try to swim in the mainstream of the mobile market and embrace the Android operating system, for both phones and tablets, or does it try to differentiate itself with an alternative like Linux or Firefox?

To succeed, HP has to come up with a unique selling proposition. The brand still has some lustre, but as the Palm debacle showed, that’s not enough to sell phones or an independent operating system. Its brand image is strong on technology and embarrassingly weak on design. So its best hope of catching the market’s attention is to come out with a product with new features and better performance.

Blackberry’s imminent demise could provide an opening. The HP brand is much loved by IT managers. By creating a product that meets bring-your-own-device standards and delivers a user experience that appeals to employees, it might fill a niche in the corporate world. Combining a novel operating system HP controls with its historical technological excellence might be enough.

I doubt HP wants to be a niche player, but right now that would be a step up.

Fossils don’t fit in the new mobile world

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

Blackberry and Windows are the bedrock of the mobile world.

A year from now, this past week will be looked upon as the point when we shifted from one mobile operating system epoch to another. Two dinosaurs – Blackberry and Windows – appear irrecoverably stuck in a tar pit of tumbling market share and industry confidence, while two warm-blooded open source upstarts – Ubuntu Linux and Firefox – are walking tall.

Blackberry’s latest results show widening financial and subscriber losses. After CEO Thorsten Heins proclaimed “we are confident in the ongoing success of our transformation in the coming years,” the share price plummeted. The only question remaining for Wall Street analysts is exactly which hallucinogen he favors and where can they get some.

With Microsoft reduced to promising that the next version of Windows, due out this fall, will suck a lot less, Samsung unveiled a tablet that can run both it and Android. Just in case Steve Balmer nibbles a bad shroom the next time he trips through the Washington woods.

Mozilla and Canonical, on the other hand, talked this week about deals with major mobile carriers as, respectively, Firefox Mobile and Ubuntu Touch, move from development to implementation. The breakout for Firefox phones looks likely to happen in the spanish speaking world as Telefonica prepares to launch devices in its markets. Ubuntu isn’t nearly as far along, but several big European and all three major Korean carriers have joined an advisory group to prepare for its introduction in coming months.

Firefox, a light client that relies almost completely on server-side support, and Ubuntu Linux, which aims to be the single, unifying operating system for phones, tablets, computers, televisions and other consumer devices, are targeting the thick and thin ends of the spectrum. Android and iOS sit comfortably in the middle, leaving no room for twentieth century thunder lizards.