Archive for the ‘Mobile’ Category

File Under: Mobile

First Firefox OS Developer Phones Sell Out

The Firefox OS-based Geeksphone. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey.

The first Firefox OS-powered mobile devices, manufactured by the Spanish company Geeksphone, went on sale today. Unfortunately for anyone hoping to get their hands on some hardware explicitly designed for Firefox OS, the phones have apparently already sold out.

For the average user that’s probably a good thing. Despite being a 1.0 release on real hardware these phones are not, according to Mozilla, ready for prime time.

Instead these devices are intended for developers looking to build and test applications for Firefox OS. And clearly there’s a lot of interested developers. That’s not terribly surprising given that apps for Firefox OS are built using web basics, like HTML, CSS and JavaScript, which means anyone who can build a website can build a Firefox OS app.

Indeed, thanks to the Firefox OS simulator there are already quite a few Firefox OS apps available. But while the simulator is helpful, it’s just not the same as testing on an actual device. Having actual hardware allows developers to “test the capabilities of Firefox OS in a real environment with a mobile network and true hardware characteristics like the accelerometer and camera,” writes Stormy Peters, Mozilla’s Director of Developer Engagement.

While Geeksphone may be the first company to produce an actual Firefox OS phone (albeit a “developer preview”), Mozilla has some more familiar hardware makers lined up to produce consumer devices, including Sony, LG and Alcatel, all of which have signed up to turn out Firefox OS mobile phones.

There’s still no official word on when these manufacturers will be joining the Firefox OS party, but Mozilla’s plan is to have a more polished version of its OS out in the next few months, with official releases in Brazil, Venezuela, Portugal, Spain and Poland over the next several months.

One of the Geeksphone devices is on its way to the Webmonkey lair, so we’ll give you the lowdown on what it’s like to develop for Firefox OS as soon as we get a chance to play with it. In the mean time, if you missed out on the Geeksphone today the company is hoping to have more available for sale later this week. Alternately, you can always install Firefox OS on your own device or just use the Firefox OS simulator.

File Under: Browsers, Mobile, Web Standards

Mozilla: WebRTC is the Real Future of Communications

WebRTC blasts off. Image: Tsahi Levent-Levi/Flickr.

The first release of Firefox with support for WebRTC is right around the corner and Mozilla is encouraging web developers to go ahead and start experimenting with what Mozilla refers to as “the real future of communications.”

WebRTC is a proposed standard — currently being refined by the W3C — with the goal of providing a web-based set of tools that any device can use to share audio, video and data in real time. It’s still in the early stages, but WebRTC has the potential to supplant Skype, Flash and many device-native apps with web-based alternatives that work in your browser.

WebRTC support is already baked into Firefox for Android. Both the getUserMedia API and the PeerConnection API — key components of WebRTC and the cornerstones of web-based voice chat — are already supported though you’ll need to enable them in the preferences. See the Mozilla hacks blog for more details.

The same APIs are also now part of desktop Firefox in both the Nightly and Aurora channels. Expect both to make the transition from Nightly to final release as part of Firefox 22 (due some 10 weeks from now).

As Adam Roach, who works on Mozilla’s WebRTC team, writes, with these tools landing and some impressive demos from both the Firefox and Chrome WebRTC teams, “it’s tempting to view WebRTC as ‘almost done,’ and easy to imagine that we’re just sanding down the rough edges right now. As much as I’d love that to be the case, there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

That’s part of why Mozilla is asking developers to start experimenting with WebRTC — to help discover what works, what doesn’t and what needs to be better.

“As long as you’re in a position to deal with minor disruptions and changes; if you can handle things not quite working as described; if you are ready to roll up your sleeves and influence the direction WebRTC is going, then we’re ready for you,” writes Roach.

But it isn’t just experimenters that Mozilla is interested in, “for those of you looking to deploy paid services, reliable channels to manage your customer relationships, mission critical applications: we want your feedback too,” says Roach. He goes on to caution that developers should “temper your launch plans.”

Still, while it’s perhaps too early to launch a serious business built around WebRTC, you won’t have to wait long. According to Roach, WebRTC will be “a stable platform that’s well and truly open for business some time next year.”

File Under: Mobile

Google Boots Ad Blockers From Google Play Store

Google has pulled the popular Adblock Plus and other ad-blocking apps from the Google Play store.

To be clear, that means Adblock Plus and its ilk are no longer available for Android users. So far nothing has changed in the Chrome Web Store, which still hosts plenty of ad-blocking add-ons for Google’s web browser.

The move shouldn’t be surprising given that ad-blocking software cuts into Google’s bottom line, though that’s not exactly why Google says the apps were removed. The company says that such apps violate the Play Store’s terms of service, specifically that they cause “interference with another service or product in an unauthorized manner.”

Naturally if you’ve already installed AdBlock Plus — or any other affected ad-blocking app — it will continue to work, though there will be no more updates. For that reason, Wladimir Palant, creator of AdBlock Plus, suggests users “install our next release from our website once it is out.”

Palant calls the move “surprising” and wonders if it suggests “a course change at Google.” It doesn’t seem particularly surprising to me, but Palant’s thoughts on all the “for rooted phones only” apps currently available in Play seem well-founded:

Until recently the main distinction between Android and iPhone was that Android allowed you to install any app as long as it wasn’t malicious (meaning that it’s obvious what the app does). Google Play still allows apps stating “for rooted phones only” but I wonder whether these are next on the list to be removed — each of them performs “unauthorized actions”.

What’s really surprising is that Google ever allowed these apps in the first place.

Mobile Browsers Help Users Avoid Bloated Webpages

Stop feeding your website donuts. Image: D. Sharon Pruitt/Flickr.

Websites are getting fatter, dramatically fatter, with the average page size of sites tracked by the HTTPArchive now nearly 1.3 MB. If the current rate of page size increase continues, that number will reach 2MB sometime early next year.

That’s bad for pretty much everyone, but doubly so for mobile users with constrained bandwidth.

Fortunately for mobile users, the network increasingly seems to see large page sizes as damage to route around.

Services like Instapaper, Pocket or Safari’s Reader have long offered an easy way to strip out extraneous content. Now mobile web browsers are increasingly taking it upon themselves to speed up the bloated web.

The recently unveiled WebKit-based Opera Mobile borrows Opera Mini’s proxy-based Turbo Mode, or “Off Road” mode as it’s known now. Once only deemed necessary for feature phones (Opera Mini’s primary market) proxy-based browsing will soon be available in all Opera browsers.

Google’s Chrome for Android browser is getting ready to follow suit.

The beta channel release of Chrome for Android recently introduced an experimental data compression feature which Google says will “yield substantial bandwidth savings.” Chrome’s compression is nowhere near the level of Opera’s, but it does roughly the same thing — puts a proxy server between the user and the bloated site in question and then applies various speed improvements like using the SPDY protocol and compressing images with WebP.

To turn on the compression head to chrome:flags and look for the “enable experimental data compression” option.

Here’s Google’s description of the various optimizations:

For an average web page, over 60% of the transferred bytes are images. The proxy optimizes and transcodes all images to the WebP format, which requires fewer bytes than other popular formats, such as JPEG and PNG. The proxy also performs intelligent compression and minification of HTML, JavaScript and CSS resources, which removes unnecessary whitespace, comments, and other metadata which are not essential to render the page. These optimizations, combined with mandatory gzip compression for all resources, can result in substantial bandwidth savings.

In other words, Google and Opera are doing what web developers ought to be doing but aren’t. Just like developers should have been making reader-friendly pages, but weren’t, so “reader” modes were born.

It works too. In the video embedded below Google’s Pete Le Page shows how Chrome’s new proxy options take a page from The Verge and reduce it from a husky 1.9MB to a still fat, but somewhat better 1.2MB.

Want to make sure the internet doesn’t see your site as damage it needs to route around? Check out developer Brad Frost’s article Prioritizing Performance in Responsive Design, which has a ton of great advice and links, including what I think is the most important thing developers can do: Treat Performance As Design. In other words, if your site isn’t svelte and fast, it’s not well designed no matter how pretty it might look.

[Note: It is not ironic to post about web page bloat on a page that is, arguably, pretty bloated.]

File Under: Browsers, Mobile, Multimedia

Mozilla Wants to Put Your Phone Inside Firefox

What if your web browser were also your phone? That’s a future being imagined by Mozilla, Ericsson and AT&T.

Mozilla has combined Firefox’s WebRTC support with Ericsson’s Web Communication Gateway and AT&T’s API Platform to put together a working demo of calls — both voice and video — and text messages all made from within Firefox.

Mozilla’s “WebPhone” is one part Skype, one part Apple’s Messages and all parts web.

The demo builds on previous Mozilla efforts like the recent WebRTC video calling demo with Google, as well as the Firefox Social API demo Mozilla showed off last year (the Social API provides the glue that brings your mobile contact info into Firefox in the video above).

Aside from the cool factor, web-based calling has a potentially huge benefit for users — no more need for your phone. Mozilla’s WebPhone concept would make it possible to call from any device and the person you’re calling would still see your info.

WebPhone also makes it easy to receive calls and messages anywhere. Anyone who’s ever used Apple’s Message app knows that it’s nice to get messages on the desktop, eliminating the need to track down your phone when you’re already in front of a screen. WebPhone would make it possible to not only get messages on whichever device you’re using, but take calls as well.

Indeed what’s most surprising about Mozilla’s WebPhone demo is that AT&T and Ericsson are involved since more than anything they’re participating in a vision of the future where they are little more than pipes for sending data.

If you happen to be in Barcelona Spain for the ongoing Mobile World Congress event you can check out a live demo of WebPhone at the Mozilla booth. For now the rest of us will have to settle for the demo video above.