Budget Phone Week: Can Firefox OS keep me ‘appy?

For smartphones, it’s all about the apps. The way that Firefox OS handles its apps is quite cool, but there are many significant gaps.

Budget Phone Week: Firefox OS and productivity
Budget Phone Week: Can I survive on Firefox OS?
Day three of my self-imposed Firefox OS experiment, and I’m starting to rather like the operating system. There’s a number of neat touches that aren’t exactly unique; they’re just neat.
I rather like swiping left to “find” new apps, and I’m starting to appreciate the small form factor. Given I’m stuck lugging around two phones (as detailed earlier), smaller is better.
It’s not that I never carry around multiple phones; it’s just that usually I can stow a phone or two in a bag and not worry about it, and that’s not the case here. I’m also struggling to think of a bright orange phone per se, although I don’t think I’m quite extroverted enough to want one as my daily phone.
I also rather like the way that Firefox OS handles apps, and that’s partly because almost nothing is an actual app in the ordinary sense.
That sounds confusing, and to the regular user it’s going to be confusing. Firefox OS uses HTML5 and Firefox’s own Gecko rendering engine for its apps, the majority of which are pure online offerings.
No online, no app, but the practical upshot of that is that app installation in most cases is virtually instantaneous, because in most cases it’s pointing to either a tiny HTML5 chunk of code or web resource. I can see how in a developing country with telecommunications challenges that’s a plus; in a country with relatively advanced telecoms infrastructure it just means that apps (even those, like games that may tip the balance at a few MB) install astonishingly quickly.

At 5.2MB, this is an enormous Firefox OS app. Disney must think I'm made of data.
At 5.2MB, this is an enormous Firefox OS app. Disney must think I’m made of data.

As an aside, for those who like “open” structures, it’s also astonishingly open — way beyond anything that Google, Microsoft, Blackberry or Apple offer. If you want to write apps that are truly open, Firefox OS would, it seems, be the way to go.
Getting back to the point, installing quickly isn’t quite the same thing as running astonishingly quickly, and it’s here that Firefox OS stumbles a little. Everything is online but relatively little is cached, and that means that if you open, say, the Twitter app, then decide to check something else, it’s got to run a full refresh every single time.
This can take quite some time, and while it’s teaching me some patience, I’m also a remarkably poor student. The ZTE Open’s low-level hardware probably doesn’t help much there, either.
A clean app marketplace setup, but nothing that hasn't been done everywhere else.
A clean app marketplace setup, but nothing that hasn’t been done everywhere else.

The Firefox app marketplace is at least well laid out, and while the selection of apps is not exactly wide, there’s a little bit of most things on offer. I’m very clearly spoilt for choice looking at it with knowledge of other platforms, and there are many things that a user of Android, iOS, Blackberry or Windows Phone 8 would dearly miss. I know I do.
There are still issues within Firefox OS, too. Many of the games apps install, but the links lead to file directories; from there you’ve got to launch them from their index.html pages. I worked that out, but it’s not apparent, and I could see many less technically inclined users just giving up or assuming that the phone had crashed.
If this was what you saw when you tapped on an app icon, what would you do?
If this was what you saw when you tapped on an app icon, what would you do?

At an essential level, Firefox OS currently covers the smartphone app basics, but not always all that smoothly. There’s a lot of room for improvement.
I'm gonna wreck it... once I can launch it.
I’m gonna wreck it… once I can launch it.

Monday:Can I survive on Firefox OS?
Tuesday: Firefox OS and productivity
Wednesday: Can Firefox OS keep me ‘appy?
Thursday: I see what you did there: Screens, cameras and entertainment
Friday: Do we really “need” fast phones?

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