Joint venture eyes cheap smartphones for emerging nations | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 09.06.2013
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Joint venture eyes cheap smartphones for emerging nations

The world is longing for cheap smartphones. A new alliance between Apple supplier Foxconn and Firefox developer Mozilla plans to meet this demand by offering low-cost, web-based devices.

Taiwanese contract manufacturer Foxconn plans to develop a number of inexpensive mobile devices together with software developer Mozilla. The tablets and smartphones will run on a Firefox operating system and are meant for developing nations.

Both businesses announced their cooperation, which they intend to expand beyond smartphones and tablets, at the Computex trade fair. The computer convention took place in the Taiwanese capital Taipei June 4-8. The prototype of a Firefox-OS-tablet was also introduced at Computex.

Foxconn is well known known as a supplier to Apple, Dell, Microsoft and Sony - and made the news with bad working conditions in its factories on the Chinese mainland. Mozilla is a subsidiary of the non-profit Mozilla Foundation and has developed the popular Firefox Internet browser. The company sees itself as one of the 'good guys' in the web community, which is why some observers view the cooperation with 'bad boy' Foxconn as problematic.

Web-based software

Mozilla's Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Gary Kovacs gives a press conference to present the new Firefox OS mobile operating system in Barcelona on February 24, 2013, a day before the start of the 2013 Mobile World Congress. The 2013 Mobile World Congress, the world's biggest mobile fair, is held from February 25 to February 28 in Barcelona. AFP PHOTO / JOSEP LAGO (Photo credit should read JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images)

Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs introduced the Firefox operating system in Barcelona

The smartphone operating system Firefox is open and does not depend on apps, but rather on the Internet. Programs are supposed to run through the Web. Developers say this will make smartphone production cheaper. "Our web-based mobile software uses less energy and memory space than Android or Apple's iOS," Li Gong, vice president of mobile devices at Mozilla, told the Wall Street Journal. "It offers the same performance at a lower hardware cost," he said.

Mozilla's Firefox is a competitor of Google's Android system and Apple's iOS and Google, too has similar smartphone plans for its Chrome browser. But, Foxconn and Mozilla are targeting developing nations in particular. Here, the change from simple cell phones to smartphones has only just begun. "We see enormous potential in emerging markets, where users and cell phone providers are longing for affordable smartphones," Li Gong said.

Targeting emerging markets

Monrovia, Liberia - September, 19 , 2008: A woman(Vicky Jah) answering her phone in her Boutique in Monrovia. Ahmed Jallanzo model model release answering her phone and working on her computer at her Boutique in Monrovia. Ahmed Jallanzo model model release

Smartphones are not common in many emerging nations

At a technology blog conference in New York this April, Mozilla announced that it planned to have its cheap smartphones on the market by the end of the year in at least 15 countries, among them Venezuela, Brazil, Poland and Spain. At the cell phone convention in Barcelona in February, Mozilla also announced that 18 large providers wanted to support the Firefox devices, including Deutsche Telekom.

For Foxconn, this new cooperation comes at an opportune time because business with old partners is slowing down. The company has been hurting badly from decreasing sales in the computer industry. An unidentified Foxconn manager told the Wall Street Journal that the company wanted to expand its client base to make better use of its production capacity, which had been increased in recent years.

Foxconn is a subsidiary of the Taiwanese corporation, Hon Hai Precision Industry, and seems to be reaching the limits of its growth potential as a contract manufacturer. "Since the dynamic of its most important client, Apple, is slowing down, there's the urgent need to enter more diverse areas of business and to get a more diverse client base," the analyst of a Taiwanese market research institute said.

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