Jacques Chicourel is the Innovation Manager of Telefónica Digital, spearheading the carrier’s work across e-health, financial services and Mozilla’s new Firefox OS platform. He’s but one of a cracking bunch of speakers presenting at TNW Conference Latin America this year, which takes place on August 28-29 in the rather beautiful São Paulo, Brazil.
Telefónica Digital has given Firefox OS some significant support in Latin America and parts of Europe, offering both the Alcatel One Touch Fire and ZTE Open to subscribers. We caught up with Chicourel to ask what why the platform is so well-suited to these markets.
TNW: How do you see Firefox OS as a platform? Does it do enough differently to stand apart from some of its competitors?
JC: If we take a look at the mobile ecosystem nowadays, we can see a duopoly between iOS and Android which corresponds to about 90 percent of the mobile market worldwide. Of course we have other players like Microsoft and BlackBerry that are investing a lot of resources, but they came out with more of the same: proprietary APIs, closed app store and billing platforms, replicating a model that we are very used to.
When Telefónica and Mozilla joined forces in order to offer Firefox OS to the market, they planned to democratize and disrupt the mobile ecosystem by developing a mobile OS that is a completely open source, doesn’t require a powerful hardware to run and enables the app publisher to choose which billing platform best suits him.
TNW: Firefox OS is certainly different, but do you feel its approach actually surpasses or improves upon other platforms in any way?
JC: Firefox OS has a unique value proposition using the Web as a platform. Because of that, we are committed to providing users and developers with a different mobile experience than what they have with other platforms. Our expectations are that this new experience will impact mainly those feature phone users who desire or want a smartphone experience at a competitive price – Firefox OS will be a great choice for them.
Firefox OS is more dedicated to improving the entire mobile ecosystem itself than to be seen as just another mobile OS available in the market.
We believe that all currently available, as well as others that will be launched in the future, will follow a technological life cycle in order to bring new features to the users. The point is that it’s not just a matter of platform improvements that will serve users needs, but how these platforms will provide a suitable environment for users and developers to have a great mobile experience. That is why we believe that Firefox OS is the right way to succeed in this market.
TNW: What about some of the other emerging platforms such as Tizen, Sailfish OS and Ubuntu? Is there space for all of these to coexist?
JC: It is not a surprise that companies are launching other mobile OS’ – not just because the platform market is overly concentrated with just two players dominating the ecosystem, but because the current model needs to be changed in order to support users and developer’s needs. At the same time, these emerging platforms are responses from telcos and the handset industry in order to bring new technologies, innovation and business models to the market. These initiatives are very good, because users and developers will have more freedom to choose which technology fits their needs.
Building a new mobile OS works as a technology diffusion phenomenon, as there is a lot of people involved, from engineers to end users. All the technology evolved around it can serve as an innovation source that can be seen across the globe. The platform market needs other players as well as the mobile market itself.
TNW: Do you think Telefonica customers are changing, in terms of their desires and needs from a feature phone or smartphone? How so?
JC: One of the biggest challenges in the tech market is to tend to the market’s need and at the same time build and create demand for new technologies. Mobile market in particular and mobile users across the world are changing every quarter at a very fast pace; this is not only relevant to Telefonica. Mobile infrastructure is increasingly a commodity and mobile users criterias in choosing a smartphone have changed.
Research conducted by Qualcomm/IBOPE in Brazil showed a market trend that users are taking into account things like access to social media, instant messaging, music, games and reading news as their main activities when using a smartphone. It reveals that these over the top apps are influencing how users are choosing their telco companies, compared to a couple of years ago, when they would choose a telco by taking into account its network infrastructure.
And regarding feature phones, things are not different. Feature phone users are willing to change their mobile handsets to a smartphone but price is still a barrier for them. This demand is a sign that mobile users value smartphone capabilities and Firefox OS has a goal to be their first experience for them.
TNW: What do you see as the next big trends in the mobile space? What excites you the most, both in the short term and long term?
JC: There are a lot of opportunities happening in the mobile space and every day we see a new startup coming to the market. Areas like video, games and instant messaging are still hot and the biggest challenge is to catch users attention as we have a lot of options and alternatives to choose from. And of course, user experience is still necessary if you want to offer something that people will consider valuable.
In the long term, I believe that the mobile space will disrupt through eHealth, using smartphone to collect users health data in order to promote wellness, Internet of everything (IoE) connecting users to their homes,cars and other devices, and financial services with the virtualization of currency and credit cards in order to provide users with new payment models.