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Mozilla CEO pushes for HTML 5 over mobile apps

HTML could set mobile users free from being locked into a specific smartphone operating system, Gary Kovacs says at the CTIA trade show.

Gary Kovacs calls for more browser innovation on mobile devices. He spoke at CTIA 2012 in New Orleans. Marguerite Reardon/CNET

NEW ORLEANS--Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs believes that mobile users want more choice and are ready to be freed from the shackles of app ecosystems.

Speaking today at the CTIA show here, Kovacs said that just like consumers moved from the walled garden of AOL when the Internet first went commercial, they are now ready to move from the walls erected by Apple and others in the app market places. He said that new standards, such as HTML 5, will help set mobile subscribers free.

"In the early days of AOL we were within their walls," he said. "And it all worked great until it didn't."

Kovacs explained that the next chapter of the Internet was open. And that is when things really took off.

"The Web grew by an order of magnitude," he said. "The shift changed our world. Humans don't like walls. We want to wander. And we want freedom."

Kovacs said that today people spend the majority of their time on their smartphones within platform specific apps. In fact, 64 percent of the time people are on their smartphones, they are in an app. Kovacs said that the app walls were built mainly because Apple showed smartphone users the way. And he admitted that browser companies, which were originally created to bring open access to the Internet for desktop users, have not done as good of a job of adapting the technology for the small screen.

"We've been bad at innovating for mobile," he said. "All we've done is shrinkage."

He said that less than 10 percent of Web sites today are optimized for mobile devices. But he said that the year-old standard HTML 5 is well under way to help change that. By 2016 more than 2 billion devices will have HTML 5 browsers, according to Kovacs. And he said that many sites are already being built to be HTML 5-ready. Kovacs expects the momentum to continue in spite of some technical challenges.

"We don't want shrinkage to be our legacy," he said. "We can do better."

Kovacs emphasized that the industry is on the cusp of another "momentous platform shift." Even though mobile users are still downloading millions of apps onto their phones, there are signs that they are getting restless with the closed system. And they're eager to wander outside of the walled garden in mobile. He said that on Google Android devices, in particular, people are downloading apps that actually improve the Web browsing experience on their devices.

But he warned that the industry must adopt standards for mobile browsers to ensure that wireless subscribers can easily access Web pages, games, video and other content outside of apps without being stifled by proprietary roadblocks.

"The reason we could plug our computers into the wall and get access to the Internet in first place is because we agreed on a simple standard," he said. "We need this same agreement today for mobile."

He said that if the industry can learn from its past, there are huge opportunities for all companies in mobile food chain.

"Are we going to make history or repeat history?" he asked. "If we learn from the past, this can be a collective leap forward. And we will usher in an explosion that all of us can participate in."