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Mozilla: why the web is the future of the smartphone

Firefox OS

Jay Sullivan demos the new OS at MWC 2013

Google would perhaps say otherwise?

Five years ago, you saw the birth of iOS and Android but the web couldn't do it and Google are still going out there, telling that story. They say you need native applications to have rich capability. Five years ago that was true, now that feels really outdated. Holding any of these Firefox OS phones is proof of that.

Do you think they'll be more OS competitors in that space, like Facebook?

I hope so, there's certainly a lot of people talking about it. A lot of them are hamstrung in that they're trying to run the same playbook that worked for Apple and Google. I don't think you can do that in 2013, they've got smart people there for sure but I think it was hard enough for Google to say to a world of iPhone developers, 'hey, you need to build another custom version of your app for Android'. They were able to do it, they got great distribution partners and worldwide ubiquity, happy for them.

Someone else running that play again, saying you need to do a third platform, a fourth platform, I think that's a really hard sell. I think it ignores a really key advantage too. There's a 200,000 iOS developers, 600,000 Android developers and there's 8 million web developers out there. If you're not betting on HTML 5, you're making a mistake. When I look at the other new entrants, it's not surprising to me that I see a lot of them talking about HTML 5 but I also see them trying to pitch their own proprietary system, like BlackBerry saying they support HTML 5 apps or BlackBerry apps. That really surprises me - you're not going to win that game on Google's terms. You've got to find a way to do something different.

Consumers won't buy that either?

If developers are getting fatigued, my sense is that this looks very much like 1996. We had a Windows PC, we had a Mac, you paid for your software and if you switched platforms, you had to throw it all in the garbage. People stopped tolerating that as soon as the web became capable of delivering the services they wanted. If you're running a start-up now, either in silicon valley or Bangalore, you're not saying 'hey, come download my client software'. That's not how Facebook became popular, buy asking people to download a Windows app.

Everyone knows that way you distribute software to everyone is to use web based technologies but in the smartphone world, because it's a relatively new market segment, we're back in 1996 again and 1997 is just around the corner.

Do you think there's a future for Windows Phone and BlackBerry devices? Isn't it like game console manufacturers having to pay developers to develop for them?

I think software is really hard and it's made harder if you're trying to do too many things at once. It's great to hear them talking about HTML 5 and capturing the innovating power of the web - love it - but if they're spending a lot of their development time supporting these other eco-systems and marketing to developers really heavily, they're not focussed on the thing that's going to win. I don't see it playing out well for those guys. I'm sure we'll see some marquee apps on their platform but all those apps probably have websites. When Mark Zuckerbeg was talking last year about moving his HTML 5 app on iPhone to a native app, a lot of people said 'HTML 5 is dead' but if you read his post, he was really careful about it. He said HTML 5 is the future, the web view that I have on an iPhone today is really underpowered compared to the other HTML 5 implementations out there. The thing that he said that really caught my attention is if you add up all of the app traffic together, it pales in comparison to people visiting Facebook via the web at m.Facebook.com.

The ZTE Open

The ZTE Open

So what's the small, easy strategy for Firefox OS?

For us the strategy is really clear, go where the developers are, go where the users are. The thing that helps us is that the apps are already out there. We're going to create a marketplace, we're going to curate it, it's already in developer preview. We're going to offer the nice things about the Apple App store and Google Play store in terms of discovery, featured apps and we're going to do human reviews, not just automated reviews because we thing that keeps the quality bar high.