Web browser-maker Firefox takes on smartphone powers Apple, Google

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Mozilla, a non-profit organization, 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 smartphone 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 Hewllet-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."

Mozilla will initially look to compete in so-called "emerging economies" in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia, where many people still use older phone models and have yet to upgrade to more expensive smartphones that feature touchscreens and high-speed Internet connections.

The first phones will be available this summer in Brazil, Columbia, Poland, Venezuela, Serbia and Spain.

The first Firefox OS phones that Telefonica will offer this summer come with a wholesale price of $100. The price that consumers pay for the phone will vary in different markets and depend on whether the phone is offered on a pre-paid basis or comes with a service contract, a Telefonica spokesman said.

Telefonica will eventually offer higher-end Firefox OS phones, and plans to offer Firefox devices in all 25 countries that it operates in by the end of 2014.

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