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Firefox’s $25 smartphone: Smart move or ethical minefield?

Firefox’s $25 smartphone: Smart move or ethical minefield?

Mozilla’s plans to [release a $25 smartphone](/mobiles/news/2014/06/firefoxsmartphonestosellfor_25/ using its Firefox OS have certainly caught the attention of the tech press.

While the devices, which will be sold in India first, have yet to be shown off, the target is clear: Google Android.

The Big G’s platform dominates the smartphone scene in emerging markets and with good reason.

It costs mobile makers nothing to use and can be loaded up on even the most basic models.

But until now, no phone has been able to come down as low as $25, still a huge amount in countries where wages can be as low as $1 a day.

The question is, can Mozilla succeed? It’s got two of India’s biggest networks, Spice and Intex, on board.

rsz firefox

It’s signed a deal with China’s Spreadtrum, which will make chips for these new phones.

On the face of it, this is a great move.

If it can get its super-cheap phone marketed well, it has every chance to grabbing first-time smartphone users who might otherwise have been put off by prices up to $69, which is what the current Firefox phone costs on eBay.

But having played its hand, you can bet rival manufacturers and Google itself will be cooking-up ways to tackle Mozilla head-on and beat it to the punch.

Then there’s the ethical question. Can a smartphone this cheap really be produced without harming those who help make and assemble them?

Firefox Logo

If even Apple struggles with this issue with its top–end iPhone, what chance does Mozilla have of making this device using materials that are not sourced from illegal mines?

Or of putting it together in factories where staff are paid a living wage and not made to work in slave–like conditions?

These questions have yet to be answered and may never be.

Mozilla may in fact think that it’s got out ahead of Android and made a clever move for new smartphone users.

nokia lumia 630 detail

But aside from ethical concerns, it also faces challenges from Windows Phone, with Microsoft offering free licences for its OS to certain mobile makers in India.

That could prove a real challenge, especially as the Windows name is well known and held in high regard.

It seems unlikely (and almost pointless) that the $25 Firefox phone will arrive in the UK or other established markets.

And while the prospect is exciting, there are enough queries to make industry-watchers wonder whether this might not be a gimmick too far?

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