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Will Boot to Gecko kill cheap Android phones?

Mozilla's Boot to Gecko is set to give you the power of a smart phone in a budget-friendly phone -- powered by HTML5.

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Richard Trenholm
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Fancy a cheap alternative to Android? The people behind Firefox have come up with just the thing. It's called Boot to Gecko and it's set to give you the power of a smart phone in a seriously budget-friendly mobile -- powered by HTML5.

The Boot to Gecko platform is developed by Firefox folk Mozilla, who showed it to us working on a Samsung Galaxy S2. It's basically a back-end software platform, which phone networks can adopt and adapt by adding their own front-end interface. Cleverly, it's based on HTML5 so it's open to anyone to build apps just like those on the Web.

European network Telefónica -- which owns O2 -- is the first to put Boot to Gecko in a phone. That phone doesn't have a proper name or release date yet, and currently labours under the title Open Web Device. But that's a rubbish name, so I'm going to call it the Gecko Phone, because gecko is fun to say.

Boot to Gecko is designed using HTML5, the next generation of the language used to design webpages. Because HTML5 is an open standard, anyone can build apps for Gecko with standard tools, unlike for example the iPhone. The iPhone App Store is a walled garden -- Apple builds a fence around its products so that only Apple-approved apps built with Apple-specified tools can get in.

That means a potentially unlimited range of potential apps -- although I suspect it'll be a long time before a Boot to Gecko becomes more than a pet project for coders and hackers, unless networks start punting some seriously cheap phones.

Fingers crossed for that. Although no prices have been confirmed, Telefónica promises the Gecko Phone will be very friendly on the wallet. If Gecko gives smart phone smarts for a feature phone fee, it could provide a serious challenge to Android's dominance of the cheaper end of the market -- and could kill Symbian completely.

The interface isn't a revelation, as the Gecko Phone is designed to show that Boot to Gecko does everything an iPhone or Android phone does. Swipe up the lock screen to get started -- like Windows Phone -- and you're confronted by a familiar-looking grid of apps, including the typical dialling and contacts, messaging, and camera apps. The interface is slick, bouncy and fast, but will vary depending on what the networks do with it.

Mozilla has opened its own app store for developers to submit HTML5 apps. And of course there's a phone-friendly version of Firefox for browsing the Web.

To try the Gecko Phone for yourself, head to Mozilla engineer Paul Rouget's online simulator. For more mobile phone news, keep it CNET UK. And hey, why not tell me what you think of Boot to Gecko in the comments or on our Facebook page.

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The grid of apps, including a dialler and messages, and Firefox.
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You can even see the HTML5 source code.
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You'll be able to get apps from Mozilla's app store.
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Here's Cut the Rope playing on Boot to Gecko.

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