Great minds think alike, they say. That’s certainly true of Telefónica’s top researchers and the keen coders at web developer Mozilla. For the last few years, both teams have been hard at work on secret, similar projects to unlock the true potential of HTML 5 on mobile.
So what did they do when they realised they were working towards the same goal? Simple: they teamed up to create the Open Web Device, and to revolutionise smartphones.
The state of the smartphone web
Whatever takes your fancy, be it iOS, Android, Windows Phone or BlackBerry, smartphones have come a long way. They’re pocket TVs, music players, satnavs and internet tablets, as well as mere telephones. But as advanced as smartphone internet browsers are, there’s still a lot of untapped potential.
You see, the technology currently powering the internet, its raw building blocks, don’t let you take advantage of all that incredible hardware inside your phone: the GPS, the FM radio, the Bluetooth, the telephone dialler and more.
That’s understandable. Websites are usually designed to be viewed on all sorts of devices – primarily desktop computers without all these extra hardware frills. But what if a website could tap into all that extra power in the same way an app can? What if you could make a phone call from a website, or see your location on a restaurant website’s “How To Find Us” page?
And if you can do that, why stop there? Why not put the whole smartphone operating system in the web? That’s where the Open Web Device project, a partnership between Telefónica Digital and the team at Mozilla, creators of the acclaimed Firefox web browser, comes in.
HTML 5 and the future
You might have heard about HTML 5 before: it’s the next generation of code (HyperText MarkUp Language) used to create websites, and it’s what Telefónica and Mozilla are using, developing and extending to create an internet platform that can make use of all the hardware on a phone, all through the Firefox mobile browser. When we’re done, you’ll be able to play 3D games without even having to download an app.
The advantages to the web as operating system are numerous: it provides security and an easy way to provide updates. But it also means extra software and hardware becomes superfluous: the fewer components, the cheaper the device. And in a world where smartphones still make up only thirty percent of all mobiles (according to market research firm VisionMobile), the cheaper we can make them, the better.
Currently, the goal is to release an Open Web phone powered by a Qualcomm chipset, but any manufacturers will be able to take advantage of the project’s technology and learnings.
Carlos Domingo, Director of Product Development and Innovation at Telefónica Digital, says that the project aims to change the entire mobile industry, not just advance one company.
“Telefónica’s objective is to drive HTML 5 adoption across the industry. For the first time the capabilities of HTML 5 and the open web have been fully leveraged to create an entirely new mobile platform.”
This isn’t just another competing smartphone platform though. What makes the project so exciting is its potential to revolutionise every smartphone. The Open Web Device project will lead the way: with time, we hope browsers in every smartphone will take advantage of the same technology so that websites can do much more. And to ensure it remains open, the reference implementation we’re working on will be submitted to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for standardisation.
“It’s a project to extend what developers can do with the Web, especially in the context of mobile devices, and to do so in a way that leads to interoperable standards,” says Mozilla.
Whatever phone you’re using, websites are about to become a whole lot more powerful. Check out the video below for an early example of its potential.