At the low-end that would mean a $20 handset that, with the rapid maturity of the HTML5 standards and the Boot to Gecko platform, behaves almost identically to high-end phones running Android, iOS, BlackBerry OS, or Windows Phone 7. That's the price of a low-end feature phone with the capabilities of a high-end smartphone.
In a Telefonica statement, Carlos Domingo, director of Product Development & Innovation at Telefónica Digital, said: "From our experience in Latin America we know that a huge part of the market is not being catered for by current smartphones. With new open Web devices we will be able to offer a smartphone experience at the right price point for these customers."
Nightingale demonstrated the user interface, with a familiar grid of application icons, on a Samsung Galaxy S2, stripped of its Android OS by Mozilla software engineers. Instead, it has a "thin Linux layer" which handles the device drivers and launches the Gecko rendering engine and its accompanying user interface (Telefonica had designed its own user interface for its MWC demonstrations). Nightingale brought up a dialer for a voice call, and played high-definition video.
"Two years ago, HTML5 wouldn't have been mature enough for this," he says. "There was no webpage for dialing a phone. But we have one. And it's just HTML. If you show this [source code] to a Web developer, he'll say 'I see how that works.' "
Boot to Gecko supports geo-location, a tilt sensor, sending and receiving SMS messages, and a camera. As yet, there's no Web page for Near Field Communications, the short-range radios used in wireless transactions and other applications, but that, and many others are on Mozilla's prioritized API list.
Nightingale argues that for a growing number of PC and Mac users, the complex OS is simply the means to launch their Web browser of choice. That's because instead of using, for example a native word processor, they use Google Docs or some other online Web equivalent. The number of such Web substitutes is growing every day.
What that shows, he says, is that the OS in today's Web-defined world adds little in the way of value for the end user, or for the developer. And that's true as much for smartphones as for the desktop. "The Web gives you the opportunity to take these Web apps and services with you, whatever device you're using," Nightingale says.
The proprietary operating systems create silos that restrict users, and developers, he says. And partly in response, there is already a strong movement toward HTML5 app development. Boot to Gecko severs the link between the OS and the device, the users, and the developers, all of which can now fully leverage the Web.
Mozilla Marketplace will be similar to those offered by Google, Apple, RIM, and Microsoft. Mozilla will review app submissions, again drawing on its experience with its add-on community process, with security being a key part of the review.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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