Knowledge Bridge

Global Intelligence for the Digital Transition

Firefox launches mobile OS; opens opportunities for publishers

A couple of years ago, before the rise of Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android, I was at an Association of Online Publishers event in London, and someone spoke about the state of the mobile web.  A mobile specialist said globally there were 600 different mobile web browsers. With all of these browsers, the mobile web was confusing for mobile phone users, and an impossible maze for publishers who wanted to bring their content to millions.

Now, five years after the launch of the iPhone, the promise of mobile web seems to have been realised. Credit partially goes to Steve Jobs at Apple, who believed that people expected the same kind of web experience on their smartphone as they had on their computers, but it should also go to advances in fundamental web technologies. HTML5, the latest version of the underlying code that creates web pages, makes it far easier to create web content for a myriad of devices. Now, open-source web browserBrowserA software program that can request, download, cache and display documents…

Attempts at open mobile platforms have been stymied in the past by a lack of industry backing, but with the high-profile of Firefox and also a desire by phone carriers to wrest power back from Google and Apple, major industry players are showing their support.  According to technology site The Register, web tools maker Adobe, mobile chipmaker Qualcomm and carriers Deutsche Telekom, Etisalat, Smart, US-based Sprint, Telecom Italia, Telefonica and Telenor are all backing this new competitor in the smartphone OSOS (Operating system)An operating system (OS) is a set of programs that manage computer hardware…

What it means for consumers

For the average mobile user, Firefox OS promises smartphone features on handsets that will cost much less than smartphones currently on the market, according to Nancy Messieh at technology site The Next Web. Smartphones only overtook lower cost and less capable handsets in the US in March of this year. These low-cost handsets, often referred to as feature phones in the industry, still dominate in most emerging markets. They are also becoming more and more capable, so that in many cases, feature phones would be indistinguishable to smartphones for most users. Smartphones still only accounted for slightly more than a quarter of all mobile phones, according to global figures from VisionMobile. In Latin America, Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, smartphones account for only about 20% of all handsets being sold.

Chinese manufacturers Huawei and ZTE are flooding the market with low-cost smartphones based on Google’s Android OS, but even these “low-cost” smartphones are priced at around US$100. According to Reuters, without operator subsidies, Firefox phones could cost around $50. Bringing down the cost of devices that have smartphone features could open the smartphone revolution to millions of more customers.

What it means for publishers

While it’s no longer necessary to consider hundreds of mobile web browsers when developing a mobile website, current web technology still requires quite a bit of customisation for the myriad of digital platforms on the market. HTML5 promises to make it easier to write once and publish everywhere.  And with the launch of projects like Firefox OS, it builds momentum behind HTML5 as a standard for creating not only next-generation websites but also web applications. If you want to see some of the web applications available, Firefox will soon be opening their web app store, the Mozilla Marketplace, in conjunction with the launch of its mobile OS.

Firefox is not the only organisation throwing its support behind HTML5 as the platform of the future. Google has its own web-based operating system, Chrome OS, which also leverages the power of web-based apps and HTML5, and Microsoft has thrown its support behind HTML5 as well. Microsoft says that HTML5 will form part of the basis for apps in its upcoming flagship OS, Windows 8. Windows 8 is intended to work not only on desktops but also include many features for tablet-based computers, and the Metro interface for Windows 8 is taken from Microsoft’s mobile OS.

We are not yet in the glorious future where digital content can be written once and then be easily adapted for multiple digital platforms, but with HTML5 gaining such widespread adoption even before it is finalised, and new initiatives like Firefox OS gaining industry support and HTML5 web browsers being adding to smart TV platforms as well as mobile devices, publishers will find it much easier to distribute their digital content in the future.

Article by Kevin Anderson

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