Firefox OS 1.3 brings new tools for better mobile Web gaming

With asm.js and WebGL technologies, Mozilla's browser-based mobile OS will soon get games like Where's My Water.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read

New programming tools in Firefox OS 1.3 enable "Where's My Water" game.
New programming tools in Firefox OS 1.3 enable Where's My Water game. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Games are a top app category for smartphones, and Mozilla is trying to make them better with a new release of its browser-based operating system, Firefox OS.

The nonprofit organization on Thursday said it's released Firefox OS 1.3 to smartphone partners such as ZTE, Alcatel, Huawei, and LG Electronics. To improve games, the new version of the OS includes asm.js and WebGL, two programming foundations particularly useful to game developers.

One specific development that technology will allow is a Firefox OS version of Where's My Water, a game already popular on Apple's iOS and Google's Android mobile operating systems. The app should ship later in 2014, said Sandip Kamat, a Firefox OS product management executive, in a YouTube video Thursday.

WebGL allows Web apps to use high-performance 2D and 3D graphics, and asm.js is good for moving existing programming tools like physics simulation engines to Web games. Firefox OS 1.3 also supports WebAudio, which brings sophisticated sound processing abilities.

Firefox OS is an ambitious attempt to build a new mobile ecosystem that's more open than Apple's iOS and Google's Android. Those two dominant platforms tightly link operating systems with app stores, apps, services, and content. Mozilla hopes the more open style of the Web will provide a mobile alternative where things like contact lists and movies aren't as hard to extricate.

To do that, Firefox OS is a browser-based operating system, with Web apps in a mobile version of Firefox rather than the native-app approach of Android and iOS. A big part of making Web apps competitive, though, is adding new programming interfaces so Web programmers can take advantage of phone hardware features.

Other new features in Firefox OS 1.3 include:

  • Support for dual-SIM phones, which use two SIM cards so people can use two carriers' mobile networks. The approach is popular in countries like India where wireless infrastructure can be patchy.
  • Access to music controls from the lock screen.
  • Support for email notifications.
  • A camera app that can continuously focus for fewer blurry photos and videos. The feature only works with hardware that supports it, though.
  • "Smart collections" that automatically group related apps into categories like games and social networking. The feature also recommends new apps in that category -- a potentially powerful promotional tool. This sort of app discovery service can also be a revenue-generating mechanism, since developers often will pay to get their app in front of users' eyes.
  • Faster scrolling and faster app startup.
  • Adaptive search, which shows not just search results from the Web but also the Firefox Marketplace from which Mozilla distributes Firefox OS apps.
  • Support for the Real-Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP), a standard used to send audio and video streams.

Mozilla is aiming Firefox OS initially at lower-end phones in cost-sensitive markets where even low-end Android phones are too expensive

Mozilla also is working on Firefox OS 2.0, a more significant change with a new approach to search and task switching.