Whose profile is rising? HTML5
HTML5's momentum was already strong coming in to Mobile World Congress. More than three quarters of software developers across the globe are currently using or plan to leverage the Web standard in their projects, according to a survey conducted late last year by IT market intelligence firm Evans Data. But the cross-platform possibilities of HTML5 emerged as an even greater threat to native mobile operating systems like Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android as MWC unfolded, galvanized by game-changing monetization efforts spearheaded by companies ranging from social networking giant Facebook to open-source Web initiative Mozilla.
Facebook CTO Bret Taylor arrived at Mobile World Congress to announce the company is partnering with operators across the globe to introduce streamlined billing practices enabling users to charge HTML5 mobile Web application transactions to their monthly wireless bill. Facebook will team with operators including Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T (NYSE:T), T-Mobile USA, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica, Vodafone, KDDI and Softbank Mobile to offer automated billing across all mobile web apps that integrate the Pay Dialog prompt, which initiates Facebook Credits orders. "We're eliminating the SMS verification step and giving users a single step to confirm their purchase," Taylor said. "We're unlocking the business potential of the mobile Web."
Facebook also is introducing Ringmark, a new mobile browser test suite designed to give developers greater insight into which mobile browsers support the functionality a given app demands. In addition, Facebook will spearhead the W3C Mobile Web Platform Community Group, a consortium of mobile and electronics industry powers that Taylor said will "author, evangelize and prioritize HTML5 and mobile web standards." Participants include Samsung, HTC, Sony Mobile Communications, Intel, Texas Instruments, Netflix, Adobe Systems and Zynga, among many others.
Seven months after Mozilla first announced its intention to take on Android by developing Boot to Gecko, its own open web-based mobile operating system, the firm kicked off Mobile World Congress by naming Telefónica as the first operator to officially pledge support for the fledgling OS. Telefónica and Mozilla will jointly launch the Open Web Devices platform and corresponding smartphones later in 2012, promising a new phone architecture that relies entirely on the Web to enable HTML5 applications with complete access to core device APIs. The firms state that all device capabilities including calling, messaging, browsing and gaming can be developed as HTML5 applications and executed via experiences based on Mozilla's Firefox browser.
Telefónica and Mozilla will develop OWD devices on a hardware platform based on Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) chipsets, vowing to deliver smartphone capabilities at entry-level feature phone pricing. And with Boot to Gecko smartphones coming soon, Mozilla is now accepting developer submissions for its forthcoming Mozilla Marketplace app storefront, targeting a consumer launch sometime later this year. Mozilla Marketplace enables developers to create, distribute and monetize cross-platform applications optimized for any HTML5-enabled device, regardless of operating system. Mozilla Marketplace is part of the Mozilla Web Apps platform, which includes new Mozilla-proposed web APIs that will be submitted to the W3C for standardization as well as a new digital identity system that gives users control over their content by tying apps to the consumer instead of the device or platform.
Also making major news at Mobile World Congress: The Wholesale Applications Community, the industry group which trumpeted its official commercial launch at last year's event by introducing its cross-platform WAC 2.0 specification, with support for HTML5. This time around, the WAC announced it is rolling out its in-application billing network API to nine mobile operators: AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, KT, LG U+, Telefonica Group, Telenor Group, Telekom Austria Group, SKT and SMART Communications.
Whose profile is falling? Native operating systems
Mobile World Congress was the launching pad for a flood of new smartphones from a range of manufacturers including Nokia (NYSE:NOK), HTC and ZTE. But news on the operating systems powering those devices was virtually non-existent. As usual, Apple steered clear of the event, so the absence of news around its iOS platform was expected. Google's Android 5.0 isn't expected until later this year, so silence isn't surprising on that front, either. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) unveiled Windows 8, but didn't say anything about its availability on smartphones. And Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) released its BlackBerry PlayBook OS 2.0 days prior to MWC's kickoff, making no significant news during the conference itself.
But Mobile World Congress isn't simply a showcase for new products, services and software updates--it's also a glimpse into the trends that will shape the industry moving forward, and in that respect, perhaps the biggest news was Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt's proclamation that smartphones running Android will retail at prices comparable to lower-end feature phones sometime in 2013. During what's become an annual MWC keynote appearance, Schmidt responded to an audience member asking when Android will expand to feature phones by questioning why a consumer wouldn't simply buy an Android smartphone instead. "When will smartphones cost what feature phones cost? The answer is next year," Schmidt said. "It's Moore's Law."
Android powered 50.9 percent of all smartphones sold in the fourth quarter of 2011, research firm Gartner reports. Apple's iOS was next at 23.8 percent. "Schmidt's expectation that Android smartphones will be available between $100-$150 by next year already looks inevitable and will begin to redefine the handset market as a whole," said Ovum principal analyst Tony Cripps in a statement. "The eventual goal of seeing the price of Android devices brought down into the $70 range also looks realistic to us with the advancement of technology and huge economies of scale that are starting to drive the Android economy. Android's astonishing growth so far may well look modest in coming years." Will sub-$100 Android smartphones be all the rage at Mobile World Congress 2013? Stay tuned.