Operator-Backed Firefox OS Gives HTML5 a Boost
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