Firefox OS dev phones appear, with Telefonica as the driving force

Europe is not exactly packed with mobile phone manufacturers these days, with the big players in that space now residing in the U.S. and the Far East. Nokia’s(s nok) still around to some extent and Jolla may or may not gain traction, but there’s not much else round these parts anymore – which is why it’s so interesting to see Spain’s Geeksphone pop up again with developer devices for Mozilla’s new Firefox OS.
Geeksphone has been around for a few years as a minor maker of Android(s goog) phones, taking things very much from the open-source fan’s standpoint. However – tellingly, perhaps – the company is now singing the praises of the HTML5-based Firefox OS, waxing lyrical about how it “has openness written on its DNA.” And, buoyed by that enthusiasm, it’s producing two test devices for Firefox OS called Keon and Peak, which will be shown off to developers later this month at Telefonica’s Campus Party Brazil.
The Keon is the lower-end device, running a 1GHz Qualcomm(s qcom) 7225A processor and sporting a 2.5-inch screen and a 3MP camera. The Peak has a 1.2GHz Qualcomm 8225 processor, which is dual-core, and it has a larger 4.3-inch screen, an 8MP rear camera and a 1.3MP front-facing camera.
Geeksphone’s involvement no doubt has something to do with being based in Spain –Telefonica is really the link here. The Spanish telecoms giant has been working closely with Mozilla on Firefox OS since the middle of last year, and has promised to launch smartphones based on the OS during this year. To that end, the telco will be buying in “a number” of Geeksphone devices, both for internal testing and for free distribution to interested developers.

“To make Firefox OS a success we need to assure a rich ecosystem and compelling user experience since day one. And that will only be possible if we provide developers the appropriate tools to make it happen,” Telefonica Digital product development head Carlos Domingo said in a statement on Tuesday.

It’s not hard to surmise why Telefonica is so keen on promoting and adopting Firefox OS. For a start, its business is largely in emerging markets, particularly in Latin America, where the low-cost smartphone business is booming. And that’s the segment where Mozilla is trying to play.
But it’s also about asserting power. With the rise of iOS and Android, value and power in the smartphone business are gravitating more and more to the platform vendors, Apple(s aapl) and Google. Carriers want something truly open because they can customize it and own the interface on the devices they sell – this is precisely the thinking at Jolla. At the very least, Telefonica’s demonstrable keenness on Firefox OS serves as a warning shot to Google, pointing out that operators still have options when it comes to reasserting control.