Developers express enthusiasm for Firefox OS, survey shows

But Mozilla and other backers of the OS still have along way to go before it catches up to developer interest in iOS and Android

Developers find Firefox OS the most compelling among new smartphone OSes, generating more interest than Tizen and BlackBerry 10, even though no commercial products have been launched for it yet.

For the first time IDC and cross-platform tool vendor Appcelerator asked participants in their quarterly mobile developer survey how they felt about Firefox OS, Tizen and Ubuntu, and Mozilla's platform came out on top.

"I was down in Brazil about a month ago and there was a massive interest in Firefox OS. Everybody came to talk to me about Firefox OS," said Michael King, CEO at Appcelerator.

About 25 percent of the respondents said they were very interested in Mozilla's platform, compared to 19 percent for Ubuntu and only 9 percent for Tizen. Developer interest for Amazon's Kindle Fire tablets and BlackBerry 10 is also trailing Firefox OS.

Firefox OS is built around applications written using HTML5. It is being pitched as a better alternative for low-end smartphones in developing markets, where it will compete head-to-head with cheap Android phones. A lot of the growth in the smartphone sector is expected to come from that segment of the market as an increasing number consumers in countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia and China buy smartphones, according to market research company Canalys. In total, developing markets will contribute up to 80 percent of the volume growth this year, it said.

Developers aren't the only ones who have shown an interest in the platform. Last week, electronics manufacturer Foxconn Technology Group said it plans to hire up to 3,000 people in Taiwan to bolster its Firefox OS push. Earlier this month, the company also said it is developing more than five devices that will run the OS.

Companies like ZTE, LG Electronics, T-Mobile, Telefónica and Qualcomm are also backing Firefox OS. The first smartphones are expected to arrive soon. Not everyone is ready to get behind the OS. With money from Intel, Appcelerator has added support for Tizen to its development platform.

"[Intel] recognized that without developers and applications you are not selling any devices," King said.

So far, the company hasn't prioritized Firefox OS because it already allows users to build applications for the platform using HTML5. But, because of the demand, a future port is definitely possible, according to King.

Even though Mozilla is seemingly doing better than the backers of the other new platforms, the company still has a lot of work to do before it reaches the level of interest developers are showing for iOS, Android and to a lesser extent Windows Phone. About 87 percent of respondents said they were very interested in Apple's iOS and 78 percent showed the same level of interest for Android. Even though more apps are added all the time, the survey underlines that Microsoft and its partner Nokia are still struggling to attract developers. About 37 percent said they were very interested in Windows phones.

The second quarter edition of IDC and Appcelerator's survey showed a growing interest in developing mobile apps for enterprises as well. The number developers who are expecting to build either customer facing business-to-business or employee facing applications has grown from 29 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010 to 43 percent. This evolution -- consumer opportunities first, followed by enterprise apps and adoption -- mirrors that of the Web, but the rate of change is much faster, according to IDC and Appcelerator.

There is also a growing interest in developing apps for tablets. Where iOS and Windows are concerned, developers showed roughly the same level of interest for smartphones and tablets.

"That is a really astounding fact because the tablet audience is significantly smaller. But we couple that with what we are hearing from our enterprise customers, and a lot of them are moving to tablets as the primary computing platform for a number of job functions," King said.

Google is still struggling to drum up the same level of interest for Android-based tablets as for smartphones; the difference in interest is 12 percentage points, easily the widest phone-tablet gap among the major platforms, according to IDC and Appcelerator. However, interest for Google's Nexus tablets is growing among developers, King said.

Appcelerator and IDC surveyed 6,046 Appcelerator Titanium developers between April 18 and 22.

Send news tips and comments to mikael_ricknas@idg.com

Tags mobile applicationsconsumer electronicsMobile OSeshardware systemssmartphonestabletsAppceleratormobile

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Mikael Ricknäs

IDG News Service

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