Motorola “is developing a Web-based mobile operating system as a possible alternative to Google’s Android software,” according to the anonymous source that broke the story to Information Week. This begs a few questions, such as: What the heck is a “Web-based mobile operating system”? Does this source even know what it’s talking about?
As it turns out, he or she just might. Because last year, Motorola bought out a startup called 280 North, which happened to be working on something called Cappuccino … a way to build web-based apps, that run in the browser but are just as good as desktop PC or Mac apps.
Is that even possible?
Maybe. Take a look at these Cappuccino apps that made their way to the Chrome Web Store. Even if you’re not on Google Chrome, you can still click on the icons to see what each one is like. These are serious apps we’re talking about, “Web-based” or not.
If you’re familiar with what Mac OS X apps look like, you might notice a resemblance. But it goes deeper than just having a thick menu bar at the top; Cappuccino’s got Cocoa in it. It clones the rich Cocoa framework that Apple uses, which lets Mac and iPhone developers create such full-featured apps.
So how does that help them with this?
Well, an operating system (like Android or the iPhone’s iOS) is no good unless you’ve got apps to run on it, right? A “Web-based” OS needs “web-based” apps, that were built using web technologies. The better the underlying technologies, the better the apps.
We’ve seen something like this before. HP’s WebOS, used on its Palm smartphones and upcoming TouchPad tablet, runs apps that’re built using web programming languages. You can even write apps for it in your browser, using a web app called “Ares.”
What’s the point of an OS that’s basically just a big web browser?
I don’t know, ask HP … or Google. There’s this thing it’s working on called Chrome OS, that you may or may not have heard of.
Chrome OS is for laptops. Doesn’t Motorola make smartphones?
Yes, it does. Like the Motorola Atrix 4G, a phone that “turns into” a laptop using an optional attachment. I wrote an article earlier which described the Atrix, and which panned its “Webtop” attachment for being an underpowered laptop, that only works if you have a phone plugged into it. The Webtop is so underpowered that all it can do is run Firefox … in other words, a web browser.
Motorola has its “web-based OS” already. It just needs to make it worth using … a feat that I’m sure the 280 North people, plus the ex-Apple and Adobe engineers Motorola picked up, will be able to help with.
If that’s what it’s planning on doing, this even answers the question of why Motorola is doing this, when their Android phones like the Droid helped turn the company around. Maybe it’s not replacing Android, just yet … it just has some ideas for what to do with it.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.