Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Boot2Gecko and The Infinite Indifference

Vision Mobile's Stijn Schuermans reports the Boot2Gecko demonstration at MWC 2012, and discusses the system's perspectives on the current environment. His point is that Telefonica (and possibly later other carriers) could employ it as the base for a commodity application ecosystem, that would wrestle control of the market – and hopefully revenues – back from Apple and Google.

Of course, mobile operators already have a web technologies-based platform with which to fight Apple and Google. It's called the Wholesale Application Community (WAC): it's got a Javascript API, a W3C-compatible application packaging model, an infrastructure for operator-local app stores, the support of a string of carriers, model manufacturers and IT companies – and is going nowhere but down.

Did you know that Android is, on paper, the product of the Open Handset Alliance? That's a consortium of more than 80 companies – yet Google seems to be the only one actually working for its progress, while the others do little more than port the software to half-baked reference hardware and slap their logos on top of the things.

Technology is not the problem, lack of compromise is. Players in the mobile industry will gather to draw up (and sometimes even implement) standards all the time; getting any one of them to promote its use afterwards is another matter entirely. The whole mobile industry is terribly inertial: that's how they got driven off to the borders of their own market by Apple and Google to begin with. That's why WAP languished for years until being crushed under the rise of the mobile web, why WAC is stillborn, and why IMS will ultimately prove irrelevant.

The reason Boot2Gecko just might succeed is not technology, Telefonica's support or the increasing marginalization of carriers. The best thing it's got going for it is Mozilla's role as the driving force behind the platform. Just as with Android and Google, they've got the will to keep promoting it long after other involved parties have lost interest (which if experience is any guide, will happen within seconds of the 1.0 release).

If Mozilla can attract developer mindshare and drag the carriers and product manufacturers to provide consistent support, then Boot2Gecko may realize that vision of a web application platform which goes back all the way to WAP. Of course history is against it, but it's the best chance we've got so far.