Mobile 'apps', download stores and native operating systems. Smartphones weren't supposed to be like this. In fact the mood music in the mid 2000s assumed a more open, Web-based environment was on the way - even Apple was seriously considering taking the Web App approach before the internal argument was settled in favour of developing a 'native' operating system for the iPhone. Then Google followed and here we are.. or are we? By Ian Scales
The HTML5 Web App has been championed by some (maybe many) as the ultimate fix for a fragmented and perhaps increasingly dysfunctional mobile application ecosystem. Instead of writing to native operating systems (such as iOS and Android) developers could master one set of tools and point the result at an independent platform striped right across all the smartphone brands - no re-purposing for different OSs for developers; less OS versioning problems for end-users; and less power to the elbows of the leading handset platform players (Google, Apple, Microsoft), who, carriers feel, have been getting things just a little too much their own way for the past four or five years.
With a fully open HTML5 environment, that iron grip could be much reduced.
And it could get even better. What if, instead of just HTML5 browsers, you produced an HTML5 OS. The phone would need far less technology on-board (all the heavy processing is done in the cloud) and you would have a means of providing a cheap smartphone experience to price-sensitive users, all with no nasty Apple lock-in.
This is essentially what Mozilla (the open source advocate behind the successful Firefox browser) has engineered by linking up with Telefonica and Qualcomm to develop low-cost smart phones (branded for Telefonica) using a version of Mozilla's 'Boot to Gecko'.
Dadaaah - instant access to the fast-growing array of Web-Apps curated by the likes of Mozilla for its Firefox browser.
"It seems like exactly the right moment for this," says Jonathan Nightingale, Mozilla's senior director of Firefox engineering in an Executive insight interview with TelecomTV (see below).
Because of fragmentation issues, rather than build different native versions of whatever app they're working on, developers are increasingly building an HTML5 app once and then wrapping it up for each platform, he says.
"So, why?" asks Nightingale. "Why bundle that [software] in something "native" if really, the functionality of your app is already being built with HTML5?"
Why indeed? It seems totally logical that the world will now throw out the native OS and adopt the HTML5 OS instead.
Except it probably won't.
"The reality," says Andreas Constantinou, Managing Director of consultancy VisionMobile, "is that a lot needs to be done before HTML5 can move from an enabling technology to a complete and viable platform that competes with Apple's iOS or Google's Android."
Other players might get there first: "Facebook and Google (with Chrome), are in a good position to push HTML5 to the status of a platform while Mozilla’s Boot2Gecko project, which has the support of telcos, might have the same ambition, but serious challenges lie on its path. While the project is progressing fast, the competition is already well entrenched," he says.
"And while the benefits for web developers are obvious, Mozilla cannot win without 3 key ingredients which are currently missing from HTML5: distribution, monetization and retailing. Even if Telefonica is backing B2G, we don't see any single player providing these missing ingredients."
Also, says Constantinou, the claimed sub-Android price points for [the] phones..." won't go down well with OEMs "...whose core business is to extract profits from handset production. With a price point this low OEM profitability will be slim, and as such, Telefonica will have to commit tens of millions of handsets from multiple OEMs before Boot2Gecko can attract OEM interest and therefore make an impact in the market."
Watch the interview below.
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