Whether a smart phone built on Web standards can deliver the kind of performance that consumers expect remains to be seen. Facebook famously stopped using HTML5 to develop its iPhone app last year, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying the technology couldn't deliver acceptable quality and calling a decision to use HTML5 for its app one of Facebook's "biggest mistakes."
Mozilla, a nonprofit, also faces stiff competition. Google's Android software, which the company distributes free to phone vendors from Samsung to HTC, had roughly 70 percent share of the worldwide smartphone market in the fourth quarter, according to industry research firm Gartner. Apple, which created the smart phone market with the 2007 launch of the now-iconic iPhone, had a roughly 21 percent share of the market.
"The real barrier here is not necessarily a technical one, it's scale," said John Jackson, an analyst with research firm IDC. Mozilla will need to attract large numbers of consumers and app developers if it hopes to avoid the fate of previous mobile operating system hopefuls, such as Palm's WebOS, now owned by Hewlet-Packard.
But "the world's computing experiences are going mobile and when they get to the mobile environment, they're happening on a platform that's controlled by either Apple or Google," said Jackson. "There's a universe of content and service providers that have an interest in seeing a more neutral platform materialize."