If web apps take off, Mozilla is prepared on mobiles

Could a smartphone run solely on web code instead of native software? Mozilla thinks so and has recently shown off just such a device on video, replacing the Google Android(s goog) operating system on a Samsung phone with its Boot 2 Gecko (B2G) technology. The project itself kicked off last year, but this video demo — captured by PC World at the recent Mobile World Congress event — is the first I’ve seen, and it’s impressive.

B2G is Mozilla’s effort to build a device operating system for the open web that can offer the same features as a device with a non-web-based OS:

“We believe that the next frontier for Web applications is full device integration, so that Web developers have the same capabilities as those building for OS-specific stacks. Boot To Gecko is intended to identify those missing device capabilities and other application needs, and design standardized solutions for app developers to use.”

The demo video, which I found through Geek.com, shows that Mozilla is well on its way towards meeting that goal. B2G is built upon a Linux kernel, similar to Google Android, but boots directly into a web-based user interface. Browsing the Internet is breeze, as expected, as is using web-based apps or watching video. But our smartphones today are capable of so much more. How then could B2G suffice as a potential smartphone platform replacement?
That’s where Mozilla’s experience with web APIs comes into play; the company created the popular Firefox web browser. Through different APIs and new web standards, B2G can directly access hardware components on the smartphone. That allows for picture taking with the camera or placing a phone call over a cellular network, for example.
Could your next phone run on browser-based technologies, then? Given the current state and popularity of native app stores, I suspect not. But recall that Apple’s(s aapl) first iPhone actually bet on web-based apps in 2007 — and still supports them. These later gave way to native apps, but perhaps the idea of web apps wasn’t a bad one. Instead, it might have been an idea ahead of its time as web technologies were still (and are) maturing in addition to heavy reliance on young mobile broadband networks.
Given that sales of HTML5-capable phones are expected to hit 1 billion in 2013, I wouldn’t count web apps out just yet. And if B2G is ready by then to fully power a smartphone, some OEMs could take a chance on the solution.
With the ability to run a web-based phone on fairly minimal hardware, such smartphones could be much less expensive than phones that use a mobile operating system. If that’s the case, B2G-based phones could do well at the very low end of the market, which would hurt sales of Android and Windows Phone(s msft) devices more than any other.