UPDATED: Mozilla's Firefox OS launches remain on track

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NEW YORK--Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs said the company's Firefox OS-based smartphones will be available in June in Brazil, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Venezuela, before coming to 11 more countries this year. 

Kovacs

Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs (right) discusses Firefox OS.

However, shortly after Kovacs' appearance at the AllThingsD's D: Dive Into Mobile conference here, a Mozilla spokesperson said that Kovacs misspoke.

"As Mozilla announced on February 24th, the initial countries where Firefox OS devices will be available to consumers are Brazil, Colombia, Hungary, Mexico, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Spain and Venezuela," the spokesperson said. "Exact launch timing is decided by and dependent on our partners."

It's unclear why Mozilla sought to retract Kovacs' statements. The company said it is contacting every media outlet that reported what Kovacs said in order to correct what they said were misstatements by Kovacs.

During his appearance  Kovacs touched on many of the same points he made at Mobile World Congress in February, and he said that Firefox OS is geared for the next 2 billion people who will come online in the developing world. "Innovation happens on a local level," he said, noting that people in Brazil will develop apps and services specifically for Brazil. "People will not get all their experiences from one company or two," he said, referring to Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android.

Kovacs said that consumers in emerging markets want more choice in their mobile experiences. Even though Apple's iOS and Google's Android have hundreds of thousands of apps, he said "there are nowhere near as many experiences [we can enable] if we unlock the ecosystem."

Mozilla has said the platform includes standard phone features like messaging, email and camera as well as built-in cost controls, social features with Facebook and Twitter, location-based services and the Firefox Web browser. In addition, it will let consumers discover one-time use and downloadable apps, Firefox Marketplace and other features. Users can enter any search term and instantly create a one-time use or downloadable app. Firefox OS also offers a deep contextual search that will let users search both within apps and on the Web at the same time. Firefox's Marketplace will also enable direct operator billing, and developers will be able to deliver apps directly to consumers as well.

Kovacs acknowledged that Mozilla is just starting to make the open Web the driving force of mobile innovation. "This is a 'Version 1' product," he said. "Our whole mission is to stimulate the ecosystem, just as we did with the desktop."

One of the key features of Firefox OS is that it has drawn support from global operators. Mozilla said 17 operators have so far committed to launching Firefox OS devices, including Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), América Móvil, China Unicom, Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Hutchison Whampoa's Three Group, KDDI, KT, MegaFon, Qtel, SingTel, Smart, Telecom Italia, Telefónica, Telenor, TMN and VimpelCom. As for handsets, Mozilla said that TCL's Alcatel brand, LG Electronics and ZTE will build the first Firefox OS devices, with Huawei to follow later this year. More handset makers will likely be added in the future. All of the devices will run on Qualcomm's (NASDAQ:QCOM) Snapdragon processors.

Kovacs said that despite the perception that Firefox is designed to give more control back to operators, the devices are not locked to a particular carrier's experience. "Anybody can take it and do what they want," he said, noting that Mozilla ultimately controls the security and privacy standards of Firefox OS. However, he said users can remove or keep operator-sponsored apps and services. 

Despite Mozilla's efforts to optimize the open Web, the common experience for mobile, he said "we haven't done a great job, frankly. I am expecting that someone will do an Apple on the whole browsing experience and will change the paradigm for how to explore content." 

Kovacs said last week he will step down from his position later this year, a position he has held since 2010. The company said it has begun a search for a replacement CEO. Concurrent with the news, Mozilla announced a number of management movements including the appointment of Li Gong as Mozilla's senior vice president of mobile devices, where he will help oversee the progress of the Firefox OS.

"I learned in college, you never want to stay at the party for too long," he said. He said when he came into the CEO position it was his job to grow the company and move into mobile. Kovacs said that the company has added hundreds of employees over the last few years and has sped up how often it updates the Firefox browser. "It was just time for me to move onto other things," he said.

Related articles:
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Mozilla: No Firefox for iOS until Apple loosens browser restrictions
Firefox: We're not trying to replace Android or iOS
Mozilla's Firefox OS unlikely to reach the U.S. market until 2014
Forecast: Firefox OS will power just 1 percent of smartphones shipped in 2013
ZTE to launch Firefox OS smartphones in shift away from Android

Article updated April 15 to include comments from Mozilla spokesperson.

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