Panasonic details plans for Firefox OS TVs

Panasonic shared a few more details on its Firefox-OS powered TVs this week, announcing that Firefox OS will be used for six different models in its 2015 line of TV sets. The company still didn’t say when exactly these TVs are going to be available, or how much they will cost, but it did share a few more tidbits on features available on the platform.

Panasonic’s Firefox OS TVs will feature a relatively simple UI, dubbed My Homescreen 2.0, that will allow users to pin their favorite apps and content sources and quickly access them from the launch screen. TV channels can also be sorted by favorites, and there will be some universal search functionality for apps and local content. Panasonic will also add some kind of multiscreen functionality to send content from “a Firefox browser or other compatible application,” but it’s unclear what other apps would be compatible, and what kind of underlying multiscreen technology the TVs are going to use.

Panasonic isn’t the only one using Firefox OS for the TV screen. Matchstick has been working on a Firefox OS-powered dongle that directly competes with Google’s Chromecast. The startup initially wanted to ship its streaming stick to Kickstarter backers this month, but is now aiming for an August release date.

Panasonic first showed off its Firefox OS-powered TV at CES this year. Check the video below for a first demo:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=midsZK1Q0RU]

Updated: Mozilla, Deutsche Telekom won’t release “privacy phone”

Update: Mozilla has told TechCrunch that the WSJ’s framing of this as a partnership around an actual phone was inaccurate. In other words, there’s absolutely no news here beyond the more general Firefox OS collaboration that we reported on one year ago to the day. For the record, I did contact Mozilla’s representatives to seek comment before publishing my original piece, but received no reply.

That original story follows thusly:

A year back, Deutsche Telekom and Mozilla said they were working together on privacy-centric features for Firefox OS, including “location blurring” (fine-grained control of how much location information to give to each app), guest mode, and a registration-free “find my phone” tool. It looks like that collaboration is about to bear fruit: According to a Wall Street Journal piece on Tuesday, the companies will unveil a “privacy phone” at the upcoming Mobile World Congress that will include such features. The article also notes how the T-Mobile parent and other German carriers are lobbying against the last-minute watering-down of strict new EU data protection rules that will cover web service providers such as Google and Facebook.

Matchstick streaming stick delays shipping to get Netflix and faster chips

Matchstick’s Kickstarter backers will have to wait a bit longer to get the Firefox OS-based streaming stick: Matchstick is delaying shipments until August, the company announced Friday.

Matchstick wants to use that time to put digital rights management (DRM) in place — a key requirement to get premium video apps like Netflix — and also update its hardware to a faster chipset. Originally, Matchstick wanted to ship first devices to backers in February.

In an update posted to Kickstarter Friday, Matchstick said it has been exploring a number of new applications for the streaming stick that would require higher local processing power. That’s why Matchstick is now planning to ship with a quad-core chipset as opposed to the dual-core Rockchip CPU that was originally announced when the company launched its Kickstarter campaign back in late September.

I had a chance to see some of those applications during a brief demo in San Francisco on Thursday: Matchstick Content Manager Dan Lee showed me the prototype of a video conferencing app that would use a phone’s camera in conjunction with the TV display as well as a second-screen app that displayed contextual information relevant to what was showing on TV on the phone.

Lee also said that a big focus for the coming months will be DRM. Matchstick has decided to use Microsoft’s Playready DRM in order to get access to Netflix and other premium content services. As a Firefox OS-based device, it has to build a lot of things from scratch to make content protection work, and Lee said that Matchstick intends to contribute code it develops to integrate DRM schemes back to the open source community.

By embracing DRM, Matchstick does follow in Mozilla’s footprints. The browser maker has only recently begun to implement DRM for its browser in order to not lose out on Netflix as the video service is switching from Flash to HTML5. However, Mozilla’s decision has also been heavily criticized by DRM foes, and some of Matchstick’s backers may feel the same about the company’s decision.

To get ready for the now-delayed launch, Matchstick is also planning to staff up and raise some funding for its U.S. operations. Currently, the company employs about a dozen engineers in Beijing and 6 employees in Santa Clara.

Check out this video I shot earlier last year, before the product as officially announced, for a first glimpse at Matchstick:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VS0VUOfrycw]

First look: This is Panasonic’s Firefox OS-powered TV

Panasonic is getting ready to ship a smart TV based on Firefox OS this spring, and the company is previewing the device at CES in Las Vegas, with an emphasis on preview: At the Panasonic booth, I only got to see a TV set running a Flash demo of the TV’s user interface, and a spokesperson told me that the final version isn’t ready yet.

Here’s what the company showed in Vegas:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=midsZK1Q0RU]

Interesting about Panasonic’s approach is that the company isn’t emphasizing the geeky side of Firefox OS, and instead appealing to simplicity, with app pinning apparently being one main feature.

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Also noteworthy are integrated notifications, which will first come from apps, but eventually also connected appliances. And finally, there is a kind of universal search that includes web content, which can be accessed through the integrated Firefox browser.

Panasonic's Firefox OS TV features integrated app notification support.

Panasonic’s Firefox OS TV features integrated app notification support.

I was told that apps from all major content providers are going to run on the platform, and the demo showed apps from Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Vudu and others as well as the Firefox browser. Also noteworthy is that there was a dedicated icon for Miracast; Mozilla has been cooperating with Matchstick on an open protocol for screen mirroring and casting, but Panasonic hasn’t announced plans to support the protocol yet. However, a spokesperson told me that there are definitely plans for multiscreen interaction with apps on mobile devices.

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Mozilla and Panasonic first announced a Firefox OS-powered TV at last year’s CES, but that device never materialized. The new model is now supposed to ship in spring, and feature 4K with a 64 inch screen size. Panasonic hasn’t announced any plans for additional models or screen sizes yet, and a spokesperson tamed expectations by calling Firefox OS on TVs a “special project” for the company.

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TCL and Philips add Firefox OS-based Chromecast competitor to TVs

Matchstick, the Firefox OS-based Chromecast competitor that made waves on Kickstarter last year, is teaming up with TCL and Philips/AOC to integrate its technology into TVs, monitors and set-top boxes. Matchstick CEO Jack Chang told me at CES in Las Vegas Monday that he expects these new partners to ship around one million devices powered by Matchstick’s multiscreen technology this year.

At the core of the partnership between [company]Matchstick[/company], [company]TCL[/company] and [company]Philips[/company] is Flint, a new technology that brings multiscreen interaction to Firefox OS-powered TV devices. Flint is essentially Matchstick’s answer to Google Cast, with the key difference that it is completely open source, allowing anyone to build Flint-capable hardware or software. “With Flint, we are hoping to extend to all kinds of consumer electronics devices,” Chang said.

Chang said both TCL and Philips already have devices that are powered by the same chipset as the original Matchstick streaming stick, which made it easy to port Flint. TV sets and other devices from TCL and Philips will still run their own native apps, but also offer multiscreen interaction through Flint as an added benefit, Chang explained. Flint-powered devices from TCL and Philips are expected to be available as early as Q2, and Chang told me that both companies would make them available worldwide.

At CES, Matchstick is unveiling Flint with a number of demos, which include HTML, Android and Firefox OS apps capable of flinging content to the TV. As with Chromecast, Flint is capable of handing off interaction to the cloud, so that users can launch media playback on their phone, and then do something else or even turn the phone off, with playback continuing on their TVs.

Unlike Chromecast, it will also allow ad-hoc mode, meaning that users will be able to stream directly to the device without the need for any internet connectivity — something that will come in handy for travelers looking to watch videos in their hotel room.

Word about a Firefox OS-based Chromecast competitor first got out when I got hold of one of these devices last June. Matchstick then started a Kickstarter for its streaming stick in October, and raised some $470,000 in the process. The company is expected to ship its first streaming sticks in February.

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Dislike Android? The Pixi 3 comes in Windows and Firefox, too

Here’s an interesting new smartphone strategy from Alcatel: The company’s new line of Pixi phones will give consumers a choice between Firefox OS, Android, and Windows Phone.

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Alcatel wants its Pixi brand to be the first major smartphone brand that is “platform agnostic.” Alcatel already makes various phones running the three operating systems, from the Firefox-running Fire to the Windows Phone-powered Alcatel One Touch View.

There will be four sizes of the Alcatel Pixi 3, ranging in screen size from 3.5-inches up to 5-inches. The smallest phone won’t support an LTE connection, but the others will. Specs aren’t available but I wouldn’t expect these “affordable” phones to be world-beaters. These devices will be optimized for cost and value, using a selection of low to mid-range components.

In 2014, HTC released its One M8 hardware in both Android and Windows Phone variants. So it’s not unheard of to sell the same phone in multiple operating system flavors. Alcatel’s Pixi 3 phones probably won’t triple-boot. It’s much more likely that a consumer can choose which operating system she prefers when purchasing the device.

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[company]Alcatel[/company] also announced a smartwatch on Friday.  From the provided photos, the creatively-named Watch looks a lot like a Moto 360. Alcatel isn’t an officially announced Android Wear partner and the announcement doesn’t mention Google’s smartwatch OS. The company even has its own smartwatch OS. But it’s not out of the question that Alcatel’s “affordable smartwatch” runs Android Wear. The announcement says it connects specifically to Android phones.

Pixi used to be a Palm trademark when that company was making WebOS phones. Recently, a company chaired by Alcatel’s United States president bought the Palm brand and associated trademarks from HP. Alcatel has made Pixi-branded phones in the past, so the revival of the Palm sub-brand doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be seeing an Alcatel Treo or Pre in the near future.

This Japan-bound Firefox phone is transparently gorgeous

Most phones running Mozilla’s mobile Firefox OS to this point have been drab and cheap affairs. But take a look at the latest Firefox phone headed to Japan: Called Fx0, it’s the highest-performance Firefox phone we’ve seen so far, wrapped in an unusual and gorgeous transparent body.

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Although Mozilla and KDDI, its Japanese carrier partner, are calling the Fx0 a “high-spec” device, that’s only in comparison to other Firefox phones that cost under $50. With a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400, 1.5GB of RAM, and a 4.7-inch, 720 x 1280 screen packed into its translucent shell, it’ll leave Firefox phones like the Cloud FX in the dust, but won’t stand up to the best that Android or iOS offers. The Fx0 will support NFC and LTE; the first Firefox phone to do so.

The Fx0 isn’t just pretty for its own sake. Designed by Tokujin Yoshioka — who has work in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Pompidou Centre in Paris — and manufactured by LG, the transparent shell is supposed to reflect “the openness, freedom and transparency that are core to the Mozilla mission.” For most people, they will simply think this phone looks cool. After all, there aren’t a lot of transparent phones readily available.

In Japan, the Fx0 will cost 50,000 yen, or about $416 dollars when it goes on sale on January 6th. (A limited sale starts on December 25th.)

That easily makes it the most expensive Firefox phone and puts it in a price category where it will have to compete with awfully compelling Android devices which are often less expensive. But KDDI seems to be planning to give the Firefox ecosystem as much of a boost as it can, with a dedicated website meant to encourage developers. One thing that would certainly give Firefox OS a little bit of a momentum is if this translucent gem became available in the United States.

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