Over a year ago, Mozilla announced its plans to work on its own mobile operating system, dubbed Firefox OS. The company officially made a prototype simulator available for developers and anyone curious enough to play around with it (though it’s still in early alpha). The OS does take some of Android’s core functionality so it works on Android-capable handsets, but Mozilla also built the UI and application stack around Gecko, the Firefox HTML rendering engine.
Though it’s not technically a 1.0 release, the simulator will make it easier for developers to stay current with future updates to Firefox OS. It’s easy to install—all you have to do is download the file from Mozilla and then right-click and open it up in the latest version of Firefox. The browser will then install the Simulator as an add-on. Once it’s finished, you’ll be able to launch the simulator yourself with a one-click button.
As soon as we launched the simulator, we were greeted with the lock screen. It looks similar to Android’s, and users can either quick launch the camera apps or go straight to the Home screen.
We launched the contacts app from the home screen and it allowed us to send a fake text message to a fake number.
Firefox OS borrows a lot of its design elements from Android. You’ll notice the time stamp and battery indicator in the upper right-hand corner and the prominently displayed launcher icons at the bottom. Those icons do scroll over to the left to reveal another icon, which launches a feedback form so that users can send the things they liked, as well as their concerns, to the Mozilla crew.
Right-clicking on the simulator allows users to change the background wallpaper or launch the Gallery or Camera app. Swiping to the left on the home screen reveals more app icons, including the aforementioned Gallery and Camera apps, plus a nifty FM radio functionality. The Camera app does not work at all, and instead pops up the Gallery app. That then proceeds to load any photos available on your computer.
The FM radio application is a total novelty and looks like an old school analog dial from a generation ago. Users can find favorite stations as they move along the dial, but there’s no functionality yet available for the simulator.
Also on this page are icons for the Mozilla Marketplace, Maps, and Settings. The Maps app does work, but because we were on a computer, it pinpointed the location at our ISP’s headquarters nearby. Otherwise, Maps was sublime: satellite and live traffic views were available as well as Transit reviews. We were also surprised to discover the map data is actually provided by Nokia. Seems like Mozilla is pulling in as many third-party services it can to make its mobile platform viable.
In the marketplace, applications like Twitter are already available to try out. Others, like a free Thesaurus application, prompted download errors. But frankly, the sort of applications that are already available are impressive, including a few simple games like Solitaire and a Galactians II, a Galaga-style arcade game.
Over in the Settings, users can turn on GPS, Wi-Fi (which we were not able to test because we were using an Ethernet-connected PC), and a few other common features. There’s even evidence of the ability to set up a Wi-Fi Hotspot then customize the security options for it. Again, the layout of the Settings looks a lot like Android’s. In the Sounds settings, users can click to hear the proposed alert tones and ringtones for Firefox OS (though they’re really quite jarring at the moment).
The Notification settings only show they can be viewed from the lock screen. But after some careful clicking, we noticed there’s actually an Android-like Quick Settings panel that drops down from the top, in addition to two blank bars, though we’re not entirely sure what they’ll be used for. Perhaps a battery power indicator?
The Settings panel also provides users with the ability to set application permissions and to set their phone to Do Not Track—a feature that’s based off of the Firefox’s similar functionality. Do Not Track tells every website and application (as well as any advertisers or other content providers) that the user does not want their behavior tracked. We tried turning it on but there was no indication it was working while we were scouring the Web through mobile Firefox.
Lastly, there’s the Everything.me panel, which can be engaged by swiping to the right from the home screen. This part of the Firefox OS appears to be an app explorer with various bookmarks tabbed for easy access. It’s also possible to search for a specific category. Unfortunately, this feature wasn’t usable, so we were unable to go much further than the search function.
Even in its alpha stages, Firefox OS definitely shows promise as a worthy mobile operating system. Still, it’s hard to have an opinion about where it’s going knowing the OS still has quite a journey ahead. At least it’s letting consumers get a sneak peak, should they be interested.