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Mozilla wants web apps to compete with native iOS and Android apps


Apple and Google are clearly the two front-runners competing for market share in the mobile world, which is why it’s no surprise we think of iOS and Android when we think of apps. With the growth of the smartphone industry also came the resurgence of native apps (thanks largely in part to Apple’s App Store which still dominates the space). However, Mozilla hopes that web apps will soon mature to provide a comparable experience for end users and an even better alternative for developers.

“We are aiming at providing all the necessary APIs to build a basic HTML5 phone experience within the next 3-6 months”

While Chrome OS has shown promise, it isn’t the only browser-based platform planning on entering the web app space… If Mozilla has its way, developers can use the results of their new WebAPI project to build an “HTML5 phone experience” that’s compatible across all operating systems (whether it’s Android, iOS, Windows Phone, etc).

A report from CNET claims Mozilla has plans for the APIs to “interact with a phone’s dialler, address book, contacts list, and camera”, essentially giving you access to the same functionality of native apps but directly in your device’s browser.

The WebAPI project certainly isn’t trying to create a full-blown operating system. However, working hand in hand with Mozilla’s Boot to Gecko project, which aims to build a “complete, standalone operating system for the web”, it could create a potentially compelling alternative to Google’s browser-based Chrome OS.

It appears that Mozilla is serious about the project, as a report from CNET claims they’re in the process of hiring full time programmers and plan to have the basics in place by February.

“We invite our community to work with our newly formed WebAPI team on closing the device API gap that exists today between the open Web platform and native APIs,” Mozilla’s Jonas Sicking said in a newsletter. “As with all other additions that we make to the Web platform the goal is for them to be available in all browsers. We believe that Web developers should have a consistent and reliable platform to build on.”

Web apps have come a long way recently. Google has introduced native code execution in the latest beta of Chrome 14 which allows developers to “build web applications that seamlessly execute native compiled code inside the browser”. Our own Christian Ziberg explains:

In Layman’s terms, native code execution lets the Chrome browser run snippets of web code specifically optimized for your computer’s processor rather than analyze, interpret and painstakingly turn HTML code line by line into a machine-readable format…  With native code execution in place, one could easily imagine just about any type of app inside a browser, with graphics being taken care of courtesy of WebGL and other critical components fed to your processor as native code. In other words, the line between desktop and web apps just got blurrier.”

We have seen signs of developers avoiding the App Store in recent months by launching browser based web apps for iPad and other mobile devices. This is seen as a way to avoid sharing profits with Apple and or getting around App Store approval policies, among other benefits such as the ability to push out updates without approval. Could the work Mozilla, Google, and others are doing in the web app arena have a major impact on the way in which we access applications on our mobile devices in the near future? What do you think? Should Apple be worried about the advantages web apps could provide  to both developers and end users compared to the App Store’s current structure?

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Avatar for Jordan Kahn Jordan Kahn

Jordan writes about all things Apple as Senior Editor of 9to5Mac, & contributes to 9to5Google, 9to5Toys, & He also co-authors 9to5Mac’s weekly Logic Pros series and makes music as one half of Toronto-based Makamachine.