Operator-Backed Firefox OS Gives HTML5 a Boost

Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) have signed on to support Mozilla 's Firefox open mobile browser on phones with Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM)'s Snapdragon chip on board.

Mozilla has also signed on Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF), Smart Telecom plc , Telecom Italia (TIM) , Telenor Mobil SA and Etisalat to support the Firefox OS, formerly known as “Boot to Gecko,” with the first phones expected early next year. (See OS Watch: Mozilla Getting WAC?)

The partnership is aimed at giving the wireless operators a stake in the iOS-and-Android-dominated mobile OS ecosystem, but it should also give a boost to HTML5, the Web standard for browser apps.

The advantage of the open-source technology is that it works on any handset, avoiding Android's pesky fragmentation problems, and it's in a Web language that most developers are already accustomed to.

The technology has, however, been slow to take off -- ironically, because of fragmentation in the number of groups working on it, and because the apps simply haven't been able to perform as well as native ones to date. (See OpenWave Amps Up Browser Apps, Sprint Tackles Browser-Based Apps and Skyfire Sets Sights on iPad, Carriers.)

But, Qualcomm execs think this is the year when that will begin to change. Speaking at the chipmaker's annual developers' conference last week, CEO Paul Jacobs said that within this year, 80 percent of websites will be developing in HTML5 for mobile, and IDC forecasts that 80 percent of mobile apps will use HTML5 by 2013.

One way Qualcomm is vowing to help reach these projections is by opening up application programming interfaces (APIs) so developers can build richer apps for the mobile OS.

Some of the APIs it's already unlocked include access to the phone's camera, a filing system for APIs and screen-orientation lock. Sy Choudury, Qualcomm senior director of product management, said geo-fencing capabilities and sensors are next. Most of the functionality is designed to mimic what native apps are capable of, but he said that running them on the Web lets users run multiple apps at once, stream rich Web audio and view complex animations.

"Starting this year, we're seeing good representation of the processing performance in devices," Choudury said. "Even our lowest-tier processors can run HTML5 as well as our highest-tier processors did three years ago."

And, that’s a good thing, because the devices running the Firefox OS will be on the lower tier to begin with. ZTE Corp. (Shenzhen: 000063; Hong Kong: 0763) and TCL & Alcatel Mobile Phones Ltd. will launch entry-level phones with the browser on board in early 2013.

Choudury said that other OEMs will start baking the APIs into their devices in the fall and the next generation of HTML5 apps will follow soon after.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

sarahthomas1011 12/5/2012 | 5:28:46 PM
re: Operator-Backed Firefox OS Gives HTML5 a Boost

I agree, as long as the apps - and connectivity - work well. And, you can use apps the same way on your tablet or smartphone, which would help with tiered data plans.

joset01 12/5/2012 | 5:28:46 PM
re: Operator-Backed Firefox OS Gives HTML5 a Boost

Seems like a possibility to me if operators and vendors really do want options other than Android. Free and runs cross platforms is generally appealing right?

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 5:28:45 PM
re: Operator-Backed Firefox OS Gives HTML5 a Boost

I think you ought to back up just a tad on this.

HTML5 is a browser standard.  It can work in any browswer that supports it and that will include things like Chrome, IE, and Safari (your mileage may vary on how WELL it is supported).  Pushing for HTML5 is actually better for our friends at Apple as that is their plan to defeat Flash.

The problem with common apps is screen variation, control variation and browser support from a Web App standpoint.  After that you then get into how much Javascript or other things you want to run.  Having built some mobile supported web stuff, the more advanced features are a problem from a bandwidth standpoint as much as a processing standpoint.



joset01 12/5/2012 | 5:28:43 PM
re: Operator-Backed Firefox OS Gives HTML5 a Boost

Yeah, I would guess its not all plain sailing. Other than Flash or HTML5 or building a new open-source mobile OS what are the other options for a cross-platform play that keeps licensing to a minimum though?

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