Struggling for Relevance: Is Mozilla Really Killing Off Firefox?

Mozilla has announced that it is abandoning its efforts to develop a new operating system for smartphones and other connected devices. The decision to shut down the connected devices division will affect about 50 Firefox employees, including Ari Jaaksi, the senior vice president who had headed the initiative.

The nonprofit organization described the decision as a “shift” in its approach toward the Internet of Things space. Rather than launching and scaling commercial projects, the group will instead focus its efforts on research and development.

End of an Era

While the announcement only affects the group’s connected devices division and not its larger browser division, the news nevertheless comes as Mozilla is struggling to maintain its relevance in a tech environment that has evolved from desktop browsing toward browsing on smartphones and tablets.

The Firefox browser, which is built on open source code, was one of the most successful alternatives to compete with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer at a time when the latter had a near monopoly on the browser market.

But Firefox has seen its influence and relevance wane in recent years for a number of reasons. The arrival of Google’s Chrome browser represented a turning point in the browser wars. Chrome managed to drive Explorer out of the game, and also provided a serious challenge to Firefox.

Although the open source browser was a major player when it came to desktops and laptops, it never managed to gain the same traction on mobile devices as did Chrome and Apple’s Safari browser.

Focusing More on Emerging Tech

The inability of Firefox to expand beyond its traditional market has become increasingly problematic as more Internet users have shifted their browsing activities away from traditional computers toward smartphones and tablets. It still maintains a respectable 14.9 percent share of personal computers, but it’s only used on 6.8 percent of all devices.

Mozilla’s Connected Devices division was something of a step back for Firefox, which had originally sought to develop an entire operating system for mobile devices to help the organization compete with the likes of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.

But that ambition ended a year ago, when Mozilla decided to consolidate its efforts toward the more limited Connected Devices initiative. And now even that division is being shuttered, as the nonprofit said it will focus instead on emerging technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality.

Mozilla is also continuing to develop its artificial intelligence initiative, DeepSpeech, as well as its Vaani project, a voice-enabled personal assistant similar to Amazon’s Alexa platform.

Firefox’s inability to penetrate the mobile device market does not seemed to have hurt Mozilla in a least one area. The organization reported record revenues of $421 million in 2015.