Home Mozilla Launches WebAPI Effort to Free Apps from Vendor Chains

Mozilla Launches WebAPI Effort to Free Apps from Vendor Chains

Mozilla is continuing in its efforts to disrupt proprietary, single-vendor application ecosystems on mobile devices. This time around the Moz is taking up the task of providing a consistent API so developers can write HTML5 applications rather than native apps for iOS, Android, and other mobile devices and operating systems. Called WebAPI, the target is to provide “a basic HTML5 phone experience” within six months and submit the API to the W3C for standardization.

The WebAPI is part of Mozilla putting serious effort into mobile devices through its Boot to Gecko (B2G) initiative. With B2G, Mozilla is trying to reverse the trend of developers having to target multiple devices and mobile operating systems for development, rather than simply writing for the Web. Robert Nyman, technical evangelist for Mozilla, says that the API would be used for any application needing to interact with information or other applications; for instance, any application that needs to dial the phone, use the camera, control phone settings or access the contacts on the phone.

Nyman says that the plan is to get the API into shape, and then propose it to the W3C. Given that this will require support from Apple, Google, Microsoft, and other vendors, I asked whether Mozilla had reached out to the other parties involved yet. Says Nyman, “Our approach is that all our work is being done in the open: using Mozilla’s bug tracker, mailing lists etc, so anyone can take part of what is going on. However, before it has reached a state that is mature enough, it hasn’t been ready for the act of reaching out just yet.”

According to the Mozilla Wiki the Accelerometer and Geolocation APIs already shipped in Mozilla, and the remainder are works in progress. Mozilla is not just talking about the effort, though – the organization is also looking to hire developers to work on WebAPI and related efforts.

If Mozilla pulls it off, it might be the first to do so. Nyman says that no APIs of similar scope are currently in use, though he says that the W3C Device API is “a move in that direction.” Android Honeycomb is the first to implement parts of the Device API. Another alternative is PhoneGap, which Nyman says has been “tremendously useful,” but it isn’t considered a standard. PhoneGap is also limited to iOS, Android, WP7, BlackBerry, webOS, Symbian, and Bada – and doesn’t have uniform support for hardware across all OSes.

This is a pretty ambitious project for Mozilla to be tackling, both technically and politically. Apple, for example, has little incentive to provide companies like Amazon an even better escape hatch out of native iOS development. It would be good if they succeed, but it’s going to be an uphill battle. Think the Mozilla team can pull it off?

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