Mozilla: In 2014, all your hardware belongs to us

Mozilla plans to adapt Firefox OS to tablets, Panasonic smart TVs, and even desktop PCs while upgrading smartphone hardware.

Seth Rosenblatt Former Senior Writer / News
Senior writer Seth Rosenblatt covered Google and security for CNET News, with occasional forays into tech and pop culture. Formerly a CNET Reviews senior editor for software, he has written about nearly every category of software and app available.
Seth Rosenblatt
3 min read
Firefox OS running on a VIA Technologies' APC circuit board. VIA Technologies

Soon, you'll be able to get your hands on a Firefox OS tablet -- but only if you promise to develop for the fledgling operating system.

Launched last year on three smartphone models in 14 countries on major carriers such as Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom, Mozilla has partnered with hardware maker Foxconn to build tablets for Firefox OS developers in 2014, the company announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Monday.

The unnamed developers' tablet is "not intended" for the average tablet owner, said Andreas Gal, Mozilla's vice president of mobile.

"The tablet version of Firefox OS will be available to anybody in the developer community" to help make the operating system work on a tablet-sized screen, he said. "As the year goes on, it'll be ready for consumer-facing products. Anyone who's interested in helping shape the Firefox OS tablets will be able to get access to the hardware."

What that hardware will cost, Gal was unable to say -- although he noted that Mozilla is working on ways to subsidize the tablet's cost.

Also on Monday, VIA Technologies' APC debuted two new printed circuit board (PCB) devices running Firefox OS. The open-source, hackable hardware devices are called Paper and Rock, both of which run VIA's ARM Cortex-A9 800 Mhz processor and have a full set of consumer ports, such as HDMI, two USB 2.0 ports, micro USB, combined headphone and microphone jack, and a micro SD slot. Paper comes in a case made of recycled cardboard and aluminum, while Rock ships with a VGA port but leaves it to the customer to find a chassis for it.

According to Gal, Paper and Rock are targeting a desktop-like use of Firefox OS. It's a small PCB to which you can attach a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. "You can think of it like a Chromebox, in essence," he said.

Richard Brown, VIA's vice president of international marketing, said in a prepared statement: "Mozilla's mission to promote openness, innovation, and opportunity on the Web aligns with our vision for APC, creating the perfect combination to deliver the best of the Web to desktops everywhere. We couldn't be more excited about the future."

VIA Technologies APC Rock, a printed circuit board running Firefox OS. VIA Technologies

Clearly not satisfied with only tablets and PCs, Mozilla and Panasonic announced a partnership at CES to integrate Firefox OS into smart TVs. Early goals will be to have menus and program guides built in HTML5.

"Current smart TVs are built on proprietary technologies," Merwan Mereby, vice president of Interactive Content and Services Development at Panasonic, told CNET. Being based in open source HTML5 will allow Panasonic to add more services to its smart TVs without having to do as much internal development work.

The partnership has benefits for both sides. While Panasonic gets to leverage an open source community for smart TV development, Mozilla gets to lead on building APIs for televisions.

"What we're particularly excited about working with Panasonic is creating an open ecosystem for these devices," said Gal. "It's really about making HTML5 ready to be an equal system for TVs."

Panasonic TVs running HTML5-based interfaces are expected to ship to consumers later this year; although, there was no word on pricing or models.

Mozilla is working with one of its current smartphone makers for an updated line of devices. ZTE has plans to launch Firefox OS on faster, more powerful hardware in 2014, including dual-core devices, such as the Open C and Open II.

"Firefox OS is an open ecosystem, not subject to the rules of one particular company," explained Gal. "This means that Firefox OS has gone beyond Mozilla; it's now a community project."