An Entrepreneur’s Guide to the Future of Mobile Apps Part III: Using Open Web Apps

By Marc Hudson on January 6th, 2013 / Comments

In part one of this series, we gave a brief history on the fragmented and confusing history of mobile applications.  In part two, we introduced Open Web Apps and their promise for future web entrepreneurs.  Today, we’ll show you how to get started playing with and building Open Web Apps.

Installing an Open Web App

Open web Apps, once installed, are standalone programs that can run on any device or operating system.  They are written in the popular web languages of HTML, CSS, and Javascript.  So what’s the catch?  Currently, Open Web Apps can only be installed with a supporting browser, which is currently limited to the latest version of Mozilla Firefox.  As the standard matures, it will be adopted by other browsers developers.   How long that will take is anyone’s guess, but I’d wager that Google, a major contributor to the Mozilla Foundation, won’t be far behind.

To get started on a desktop (Windows , OS X, or Linux):

1.  Make sure you have the latest version of Mozilla Firefox installed:  http://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/new-b/

2.  Browse the Firefox Marketplace and try installing an app: https://marketplace.firefox.com/

To get started on an Android Device:

1.  Download the latest version of Firefox for Android from the Google Play store: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.mozilla.firefox

2.  Browse the Firefox Marketplace and try installing an app: https://marketplace.firefox.com/

To get started on an iOS Device (Not currently supported):

Sorry folks, Apple hasn’t been to keen on opening up iOS to other browser’s javascript engines, which means until Apple changes their closed door policies, this might be the only platform that does not see Open Web Apps.

Creating an Open Web App

For developers, there is a couple of quick hitters you should know before developing your first Open Web App.

First, Open Web Apps are just like normal websites or web applications.  They are hosted the same and you can use any backend language of choice.  The only difference is, an Open Web App contains a manifest file that allows a supporting browser (only Firefox for now) to install your website as a standalone application that will open in a slimmed down browser window (without an address bar or any other controls).  Once the Open Web App is installed, it no longer requires Firefox.  It’s a totally independent application that currently works on any Desktop OS and Android devices.

Second, Open Web Apps can be distributed via the Firefox Marketplace or through your own website.  It’s your choice!

Mozilla has put together a great set of resources to help get you started building your very first Open Web App.   To get started, head on over to the Firefox Marketplace developers page:

https://marketplace.firefox.com/developers/

Happy coding!

About the Author

Marc Hudson

Software Engineer (''UI Guy') at Quicken Loans and co-founder of Hudson Digital. Marc is a proud Detroiter and interested in development, startups, and health and medical technology.