Flame – Firefox OS Reference Phone

Attending the Mozilla Summit 2013 and talking with our community about the exciting future of Firefox OS, the one concern I heard voiced most often was the difficulty of participating in Firefox OS. It was simply out of reach to most people I talked to.

No doubt, Firefox OS is an open source project. The code’s been there since before day 1. But access to source code does not a successful open source project make. Firefox OS felt to many I’ve spoken with to be far less participatory than Firefox the browser. The primary reasons for this, IMO, are the lack of widely available Firefox OS hardware and regular Firefox OS testing binaries.

With Firefox the browser, anyone anywhere in the world can download and get updates for a Mozilla-hosted binary of Firefox on a daily basis. They can download the active development “Nightly” build to see the changes that landed in the browser since yesterday. They can also download and get updates for the more stable “Aurora” and “Beta” channels. And because Firefox runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux, most people had no problem trying it out on their existing computers.

Firefox the browser is easy to try out. Firefox OS is not.

With Firefox OS, only Mozilla employees or employees of Mozilla partners can download development builds and get updates. This is because there are a few pieces down in the phone’s software stack that are not Mozilla’s code and for which Mozilla doesn’t have license to distribute. And, even if our community could download development builds of Firefox OS, the hardware to put that on has been very limited. If you’re not in a region with a Mozilla partner shipping Firefox OS phones, your options were very limited.

Mozilla tried to hack around the problems a couple of times over the last year, with limited success.

Flame is Mozilla’s investment in solving those problems for real.

Mozilla partnered with a company called Thundersoft to design, build, and update a phone that contains all of the hardware we’re targeting in the next year or so. Thundersoft has already made and delivered 2,000 Flame phones to Mozilla and we are rolling those out now to the core Firefox OS teams and community. We’ve got the retail site up which is selling an additional 5,000 Flame phones, and we’re hard at work on making nightly builds available to these devices.

The Flame phone won’t fix everything, but it should go a long way towards empowering our community to participate in Firefox OS and to generate the kinds of community impact on scale that we’ve seen in our Firefox browser community for years.

20 thoughts on “Flame – Firefox OS Reference Phone

  1. This is a very positive step forward. It’s great to hear that nightly builds will be available, especially since building is such a huge pain. Big thank you to everyone who has worked on making this happen!

      1. I kind of don’t like the sound of “our partners will”, I have a One Touch Fire from Poland from last year and I’m still on Firefox OS 1.1.0 because this partner doesn’t release the newer updates, even though you guys already released 1.3.0 (and 1.2.0 half a year ago). I’m really hoping that this will be different but I’m sceptical.

        1. We never had any agreements with our consumer launch partners like we do with our partner on this developer phone. We have contracts that say they *will* support this phone. For consumer products, it’s up to your operator/carrier to manage all of that. This isn’t a consumer product, it’s a Mozilla designed reference device program that was designed to do exactly what the consumer phones in market weren’t doing — support our developer community.

  2. Asa, can you unpack ‘and update’ a little? Will they be pushing several channels of OTA updates so we can choose which we want (release, nighlty etc)?

    Are the blobs still non redistributable so we’ll need to do a full build with a device connected to access it’s blobs (1st time)?

    1. Phones ship with release and will get automatic OTA/FOTA updates as new major versions are available. Developers and other community members will want “developer builds” so they’ll go to a website, download a developer image for the tip of master (2.0 today) flash that, and then receive OTA/FOTA updates. There will be an in between channel that is a tested known working nightly that’ll be updated approximately once a month or so for people who want to see the latest and greatest before it’s released and in time to give feedback but can’t handle the instability of daily tip updates.

  3. OK, the conclusion of the post gives a bit hope, but otherwise ” there are a few pieces down in the phone’s software stack that are not Mozilla’s code and for which Mozilla doesn’t have license to distribute” … well, get the license. You provide the partners with OS, they should be able to give you little and give your right to distribute binary blobs. Is it too much to ask?

  4. Hi Aza, do you know the difference between the Flame phone for Japan and the Flame phone for the rest of the world? Thanks, D.

  5. I agree with the previous comments. While Mozilla should trust its partners to support the device for long periods, in the reality it doesn’t always happen. You see, the whole Android ROM ecosystem is about supporting older devices with the most up-to-date software and providing better features than these the shipped with the device.

    Mozilla is known for its Open-Source friendly behavior, and I think we should find how to provide updates without full support from the manufacturer/partner. For example, they should provide updates to the binary blobs and Mozilla will take care of everything else, from the kernel itself to the operating system. Also, at the same time, I suggest that Mozilla should try to convince partners to open its binary blobs codebase, so Mozilla could provide the whole stack and these devices will have longer lifetime.

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  9. Hi Asa,
    I’ve received my Reference phone and the home screen UI is not working properly. Unlike the OS 1.3 Simulator, I can’t seem to “tap and hold” to move and/or delete icons, however I’m still able to “tap and hold” and drag when I’m in the browser so it can’t be the physical screen malfunctioning.

    Are you aware of this issue? I’m also trying to build the latest version of 1.3 on my phone but it’s proving difficult as I keep getting a bunch of build errors.

    Any guidance would be greatly appreciated, thanks!

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  11. > For consumer products, it’s up to your operator/carrier to manage all of that. This isn’t a consumer product, it’s a Mozilla designed reference device program that was designed to do exactly what the consumer phones in market weren’t doing — support our developer community.

    I love that your trying to solve this issue for the developer community. I just got my Flame, and I love that I can get it updated to a 2 day old build. However I think assuming this is only a developer problem is incorrect. Normal users still want regular updates, not just at the whim of the manufacturer.

    This is one of the problems the Android market has: other than the nexus phones, few devices ever see more than 1 or 2 updates. This works badly for the entire ecosystem (particular when devices never get security updates!)

    1. Totally agree. It’s irresponsible to leave them without security updates. It’s no different from a desktop computer or a laptop. People use them a lot even for banking. Maybe apple has some advantage in that regard – only allows apps from a single verified source. But that limitation is also not acceptable. Android and other more open devices do definitely need more guarantees about security.

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