Tag Archives: B2G

Firefox OS To See Life On Sprint

I’ve written before about my interest in Boot2Geck, the mobile OS being developed by Firefox maintainers Mozilla, which focuses on an HTML5 ecosystem rather than platform-dependent apps. The Mozilla Blog made a post a few days ago, though, announcing a few of their partners for what they now seem to be calling Firefox OS. It’s clear from the post that Mozilla realizes just how difficult the mobile market is right now, with Android and iOS completely dominating. With that understanding, Mozilla is shooting for developing markets first to get a solid user base. This is why the first Firefox OS devices are expected to launch early next year in Brazil.

boot2gecko

I was surprised, though, to see that Sprint was also listed as a partner, and the only one from the U.S. at that. According to the blog, Sprint’s Product Chief said:

“Sprint continues to support an open mobile ecosystem that enables choice for Sprint customers and a healthy competitive ecosystem for the technical community. Firefox Mobile OS can help us drive an HTML 5-based platform for creating lower cost smartphone options for prepaid, postpaid and wholesale customers.”

This is great news to me, as I figured Sprint would be the last U.S. carrier to jump aboard the Firefox OS wagon (well, maybe just before Verizon depending on the availability of LTE Firefox OS handsets…) Sprint took a horrible approach with Windows Phone 7, essentially saying they would only focus on carrying the device after it became popular. In my mind, this is basically the same as telling Microsoft to screw off since there is no way for a mobile platform to become popular in the first place if carriers won’t sell the handsets.

If Sprint really is going to give support to Firefox OS, then Q1 of 2013 could be an exciting time for me since my contract is due to expire at the end of this year. If RIM isn’t able to release a semi-usable handset, Firefox OS could be a great alternative for me if I’m going to be forced to go with a full-touchscreen device.

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Boot2Gecko: Will HTML5 Make Smartphone Platforms Irrelevant?

I had previously taken a little time to discuss my hopes surrounding Mozilla’s GaiaUI. Since then, more information released about Boot2Gecko during Mobile World Congress. While Mozilla mentioned that it was working with several OEMs to get support for the platform, I don’t know of anything official being announced from any OEMS. However, I did get to see a video demonstration of B2G posted on Engadget. While the platform still seems early and appears to run a little sluggishly, what really impressed me is that the entire interface seems to be based off of HTML5. This is a theme which Microsoft is currently exploring in Windows 8, as it’s possible to make Metro UI applications using HTML5 (along with several other possibilities.)

While it’s interesting to see the proliferation of HTML5, the B2G video on Engadget gave me another thought. The entire B2G interface, from the homescreen to the dialer, is simply running HTML5. There are a plethora of apps on the homescreen, and the Mozilla employee doing the demonstration in several instances mentions that the app is the equivalent of the mobile web page since it’s just rendering HTML5. While some may express disappointment at this, I see only a bright possibility for the future. I personally dislike the “appification” of the Internet that is currently happening with smartphones and tablets. I feel that the companies behind too many of the best services on the web feel obligated to put out apps for their services, even if they have a fully functioning mobile web platform.

I see LinkedIn as a fantastic example of this. A few months ago I installed the LinkedIn app on my Nexus S. I noticed that many of the reviews in the Android Market at the time were highly negative. This surprised me once I installed the app since it seemed pretty functional. It wasn’t until I decided to see if LinkedIn also had a mobile site that I saw why so many people were complaining; the LinkedIn mobile web page is the exact same as the app. For me that’s great because it means that there’s no reason to clutter up my phone with another app; I don’t see a need to install a dedicated app when I can just open my browser, go to a bookmark, and get all of the same functionality. Not many of the apps I could use would warrant an installation just to have push notifications; how critical is it really that someone knows immediately that they have a Facebook notification or Twitter mention? However, many people seem to be of the mindset that everything needs and app, but they’re angry when companies comply with that logic but don’t add any special perks to differentiate the app from the mobile web page.

That train of thought makes no sense to me, especially as we are currently in an era where mobile browsers are incredibly functional. Likewise, technologies like HTML5 are making it easier for developers to get more capabilities into their mobile web pages. If the app and the mobile page can do the exact same thing, then why is there any need to differentiate the two? B2G does a wonderful job of blurring the app/web page line, and I see it as something similar to what Windows 7 does when you pin bookmarks to the Taskbar. The B2G interface demoed in the Engadget video shows apps on the phone, but the “apps” are really just rendering the mobile web page. The difference is that you don’t see the normal browser controls, so the page just looks like a dedicated app. It doesn’t actually need to use up the storage space on the device, though, just to render what the browser can already do.

My sincere hope is that B2G encourages more and more services to focus a lot of effort into their mobile web offering with HTML5. The reason for this is that if more companies focus on a solid mobile web page rather than apps dedicated to a particular platform then everyone benefits. Users won’t have to worry about whether or not a particular application is available on their platform of choice; as long as they have a phone with an HTML5-compliant browser they can use the service. I envision a future where that’s how all apps are handled. Any mobile OS would really just need to be a stripped-down kernel that can render HTML5. I’m assuming they would all, like B2G, offer users the ability to pin web apps to a launcher. In that way, web apps can be launched just like native apps, only with compatibility across all platforms.

This also makes sense for the developers of mobile-based services. Companies won’t need to make sure they have a developer who knows Android, a developer who knows iOS, and a developer who knows Windows Phone. Instead, they just have to make sure they have a developer who knows HTML5. If the HTML is solid, then everything should just work on the other platforms.

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Mozilla’s GaiaUI: I hope there’s room in the market.

As a fan of technology, I tend to try pretty much everything that I can. Trying out new software is a huge part of the fun, so I’m always on the lookout for new releases and updates. When it comes to web browsers, though, no matter who releases updates and makes changes to their platform, I always end up coming back to Firefox. While it has had its share of issues and there are still problems which need to be addressed, I feel like Firefox is the one browser that’s currently on track. It’s at least heading in the right direction, even if they haven’t completely executed properly thus far.

Given my fandom of Mozilla’s browser, I’m pretty excited about some recent images for the GaiaUI to be used by Mozilla’s Boot2Gecko platform. At it’s core, B2G has everything to make geeks salivate. It has a Linux kernel running under the hood. The user interface is mainly based around HTML and JavaScript, which are common enough markup and scripting languages that many will be instantly familiar with it. With several vendors interested in the platform and a potential 2012 release, it makes me pretty excited for what’s coming down the pipeline.

On the other hand, though, I have to wonder if there is still any room in the market for yet another mobile OS. My reason for concern is the comparison I draw with the personal computer realm. There are two major consumer operating systems, Windows and OS X. Enthusiasts have hundreds of Linux distros to choose from, along with several flavors of Unix. While many platforms have risen to prominence in the server realm, as far as what the average person will have installed there are only two options.

Comparing that to the mobile realm, there are (mainly) four options: Android, iOS, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone 7. Windows Phone 7 only holds a sliver of the market. BlackBerry’s share has been on the decline for quite awhile now, with Android and iOS dominating pretty much everything. Nokia has given up on Symbian. Palm was purchased and then WebOS open-sourced after HP decided they couldn’t make it into a successful closed-source platform. Maemo has more or less fallen off the map, and I haven’t heard of any OEM interest in it since Nokia’s N900. So many mobile operating systems have failed in the last couple of years, and half of the ones that are still in use are struggling. This doesn’t seem like an overly friendly environment for a complete newcomer to enter the market. The two dominant operating systems are already controlling the market, much like the world of computer operating systems.

However, I’m remaining hopeful that maybe B2G can bring something to the market that is able to differentiate it enough from the existing offerings that it can generate interest from users. One area where mobile differs from computers is that the dominant platforms have changed. Over the last 20 years, the operating systems offered by Microsoft and Apple have pretty much been in control the entire time, at least as far as client machines are concerned. Within the mobile realm, just five years ago Symbian, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry had a stranglehold on the market. It’s possible that history will repeat itself and B2G can make its own impact.

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