Emerging Markets Breathe Life Into HTML5 For Mobile

Since Mark Zuckerberg uttered his oft-quoted words that HTML5 “just wasn’t there,” it has been taken as a sign that the pendulum is swinging away from development for HTML5 and the mobile Web.But since then HTML5 has actually gained momentum, with key device manufacturers, wireless carriers, and development platforms putting a whole pile of bets on HTML5.

There’s a distinct emerging markets flavour to this push. 

  • Gree, the Japanese social mobile gaming giant, has built an HTML5 platform to speed adoption of its games in the 169 countries where it’s already present. 
  • Telefónica has 175 million mobile customers across Latin America, as well as an investment in Chinese carrier Unicom. Telefónica wants to push HTML5 not just for mobile development, but also as an operating system via the Firefox mobile platform. 
  • Chinese manufacturer ZTE has also signed on to carry handsets powered by the Firefox mobile OS, in a bid to reduce dependency on Android.   

The contours of a possible future HTML5-shaped mobile ecosystem are emerging: fuelled by the huge user bases in emerging markets, supported by low-cost smartphones and tablets, and powered by HTML5 and Web-housed apps.  

The centrepiece of Telefónica’s HTML5 strategy is its alliance with Mozilla, which is developing Firefox OS, an entire mobile platform that runs on HTML5. The new platform would compete with Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS. 

“Firefox OS will bring a better smartphone experience to a higher proportion of the population at a lower cost,” and thus accelerate adoption, says Telefónica Digital CEO Matthew Key. 

According to Mozilla, the Firefox OS is optimised for low-price smartphones and reduces device manufacturing costs. 

The first Firefox OS-powered devices are expected to launch commercially in Brazil in early 2013 through Telefónica’s Vivo brand. 

Telefónica also announced this week that its venture team led a $25 million investment round in Everything.me, an app using HTML5 and the cloud that allows users to access and bookmark hundreds of mobile apps without downloading or installing them. Everything.me is seen as a potential cornerstone for an HTML5 app ecosystem, and indicative of a future in which app stores and downloads will be disintermediated. 

Gree, which reported $190 million in profits last quarter, has begun testing the beta version of an HTML5 global gaming platform, to complement its existing native smartphone functionality.

Monetization has always been a barrier to HTML5 Web apps, since they don’t have the advantage of support from an app store with payment processing built-in. But Gree says it will monetise on HTML5 via PayPal.

Of course, there’s no guarantee HTML5 will succeed in mobile. If global consumers don’t embrace it, the mobile Web and HTML5 could continue playing second-fiddle to the world of native apps. 

Read More Of Our HTML5 coverage: 

  • For a good overview of HTML5 we recommend reading our primer on HTML5 first.
  • Report on Hybrid Apps
  • HTML5: Not Ready For Prime-Time
  • Nearly Two-Thirds Of Developers Are Using HTML5
  • Q&A On HTML5 With Michael King of Appcelerator

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