24 February 2012

Ars Technica: “First look: Mozilla's Boot2Gecko mobile platform and Gaia UI”

The current implementation of the Gaia environment is still simplistic and incomplete, but it offers a compelling demonstration of how conventional Web content can be used to create a smartphone user experience. It's possible to do anything in the B2G user interface that can be done with HTML and CSS, so the possibilities for styling and theming are prodigiously extensive. Such intrinsic flexibility could help make B2G appealing to hardware vendors because it would make it easier for them to create custom user interfaces that differentiate their products. Ryan Paul

Somehow I can’t see this initiative taking off. Ever. There are just too many obstacles to overcome:

  • Let’s start with the design: basically another iPhone clone with an ugly-grey bar at the top that’s supposed to do… what exactly? All screenshots show it, so it’s permanent?! I understand it’s an early draft, but it doesn’t look promising at all. I haven’t used webOS, but from what I read it had better design and innovative features and it flopped nonetheless. So what if Boot2Gecko can be customized by carriers or handset producers? They can do that right now with Android, no need to wait around for Mozilla to offer them an alternative.
  • Open source isn’t necessarily a selling point; users are after a better experience or better cost-effectiveness and being open source guarantees none of those. Besides, there is already an open alternative in Android (sort of), with webOS soon to follow.
  • Choosing HTML and JavaScript exclusively for app development is a risky decision. Web technologies are still lacking in both performance and functionality compared to native code, as we saw from the previous failure of (again) webOS.
  • Hoping for other mobile OS makers to implement the WebAPI needed for Mozilla’s vision is even more far-fetched. Apple isn’t going to do it, no question about it. And since the vast majority of mobile browsers rely on WebKit, that could be enough of an excuse for and others not to support the API either. Microsoft could conceivably add it, simply to increase the number of apps available for it’s mobile OS, but that would still be very far from the wide adoption such an initiative would need. As long as the potential user base is low, developers won’t prioritize Mozilla’s platform; the chances of growth would be pretty slim.
  • The most ridiculous argument I hear is “if someone can pull this off, that’s Mozilla!” Hmm, can you name a single widely successful product from Mozilla besides ? The browser that defeated Internet Explorer and shattered a monopoly on the web. But I would argue that loosing the top one spot was as much Microsoft’s ‘merit’ as Mozilla’s. Firefox had a better product and no other competitors entering a stagnating market, where Microsoft had given up innovation. That’s everything the current mobile market isn’t: we got several companies in a fierce competition, new OS versions every year, much better, finished products than Mozilla has to show for.

And to think that Mozilla’s main source of funding is one of the competitors in this mobile race… I wonder, if Google knew about Mozilla’s mobile plans when they signed the deal, would they encourage this idea expecting it would never succeed, just to steer Mozilla’s development efforts away from the desktop browser, securing ’s lead over Firefox? Just imagine, in another three years, when this deal expires, Firefox would be somewhere under two-digits market share, Boot2Gecko a distant memory of a still-born project, and Chrome above 50% share on both mobile and desktop…

Hmm, Mozilla looks really serious about this idea…

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