On the eve of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the Mozilla Foundation announced it was launching a $25 Firefox OS-based smartphone. Although targeted for now at emerging markets, the move could affect smartphone pricing worldwide.

On Sunday, foundation head Mitchell Baker showed a press gathering a prototype of the $25 device, with components built by chipmaker Spreadtrum Communications in Shanghai. Indonesia-based Polytron, among others, will make and market the phone. In a statement, Spreadtrum said that this low-priced model can "expand the global accessibility of open Web smartphones to first-time and entry-level smartphone buyers."

A Firefox OS reference handset for developers, called the Firefox OS Flame, was presented as a prototype of the $25 model. It offers a dual-core, 1.2-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU, 4.5-inch 854x480 display, NFC, a 5-megapixel camera on the back and 2-megapixel on the front, and 3G wireless data Relevant Products/Services capability.

Powerful Feature Phone

Some Mozilla-watchers have said the new, inexpensive phone is only slightly better than a feature phone in terms of capability. Spreadtrum's chips, for instance, support only 2.5G Edge mobile networks, which are not uncommon in developing countries.

In response to the criticism, Baker told the press conference to imagine that the phone was a feature phone with power, rather than an underpowered smartphone.

Mozilla also announced the launch of seven higher-end new Firefox OS smartphones, including two ZTEs with dual-core processors, the ZTE Open II and Open C, four Alcatel Firefox OS phones, and one from Huawei with a dual-core processor Relevant Products/Services and an 800x400 screen. Alcatel One also plans several Touch tablets, the first tablets using Firefox OS.

The ZTE Open II model has a 480x320 screen, a dual-core 1.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and a 2-megapixel camera. The ZTE Open C features an 800x400 screen, a Snapdragon 200 and a 3-megapixel camera. Prices for these models have not been announced. LG and Sony have also committed to building devices using Firefox OS.

'Long-Awaited Move'

The Mozilla Foundation has targeted Greece, Indonesia, Hungary, Venezuela, Colombia, India and Brazil in particular. The first Firefox OS device was launched last summer, and now the phones are in 15 markets, although sales figures have not been released.

Ted Schadler, vice president and principal analyst at industry research firm Forrester, described Mozilla's announcement as a "long-awaited move" that will put pressure on such phone makers as Nokia.

"When you look at the business Relevant Products/Services models for voice and data services," he pointed out, phones could become a $0 device that is covered by service subscriptions. But in many of the emerging markets that Mozilla is targeting, Schadler said, "consumers use a pre-pay model" to buy time and data volumes ahead of time, with the phone part of the deal. Carrier subsidies are not as common as in, say, the U.S.

"So when a low-cost option comes in," he added, "everybody wants to see if it will be supported and, if so, if it will sell."