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  • >> All right, hi.

  • My name's Garann, and I would like to talk today what happened to our JavaScript phones?

  • I want to start off with a hypothesis which is that nobody in this room actually has a

  • hacker phone.

  • About five to six years ago, I feel like I could have asked you all this kind of conference

  • if you had some kind of experimental advice running Firefox OS, Ubuntu on your person

  • right now, and there would be a fair amount of hands in the air given the demographic

  • of this conference.

  • Today, I doubt there are any of those devices here in the room, unless you brought them

  • here specifically to troll me?

  • Am I right?

  • I'm assuming that I am!

  • So I think it's fair to say that hacker phones as a concept kind of disappeared.

  • We just gave up, and we went back to our iPhones and our Androids.

  • It wasn't for no reason.

  • We got better cameras, faster modems, and greater stability.

  • These phones seemed to get more and more expensive.

  • I can't even fathom how I would have justified paying nearly a grand for my first Nokia,

  • but they also become more impressive and able to replace our real computers.

  • So you could say that they cost more, because they help us accomplish for.

  • They go far beyond what we could have done with hacker phones.

  • Except they don't work like real computers.

  • We're locked into somebody else's vision of this sort of like Ikea office computer that

  • looks pretty convincing, but it's actually quite limited.

  • If you don't like the vision that you're offered, you have at maximum one alternative option.

  • So maybe that's why I'm up here today wondering what happened to JavaScript phones which would

  • blow up this field and put the future of these computers back into the hands of your average

  • JavaScript developer, the way we grabbed the web back from IE5 and Flash.

  • Interestingly, what happened involves a bit of all the things I just mentioned.

  • The stunning cameras, the connection speeds, the stability of the firmware.

  • And it might seem superficially like this is triumph of the free market where the products

  • that won do so because they were simply better products.

  • It's actually more of a triumph of old boys' network, monopolies, the obtuseness of infrastructure,

  • and fashion having lots and lots of capital to throw at something so that nobody else

  • can compete on your level.

  • It's not a story of the natural even Lukes of products to become better, it's the story

  • of capitalism rewarding capitalism.

  • Let's go back five or six years when some of us thought it might play out differently.

  • There are a few things relevant to examine from that time that should have culminated

  • in a great JavaScript phone - the interest in Cordova and the tools, the exponential

  • adoption of Node, and Node bots being like artisan coffee brewing, or bread-making or

  • knitting, whatever you're into these days, of the day.

  • People searching for ways of web skills on their phones, putting Node where they could

  • think of and everybody seemed to have a soldiering iron.

  • If that is not a recipe for a JavaScript phone, I don't know what is.

  • Some of your babies, you will remember that time, so let's talk about the details.

  • First, the state of mobile development was really unresolved.

  • People were already developing native apps, and they were making quite decent money off

  • them because there wasn't as much competition.

  • So, naturally, developers who didn't work in the native languages of the platforms wanted

  • a piece of that too or their employers or client did, and from there, we got things

  • like phone gap.

  • Phone gap was bought by Adobe and became Cordova, a tool to allow JavaScript developers to write

  • a JavaScript application and compile it to native code.

  • There was a lot of focus on making normal hosted web apps and websites mobile-friendly.

  • There are tool kits such as emulators, and intensive theorising about responsive design

  • that started appearing out of nowhere to meet the needs of smartphones.

  • You could compare it to the current consensus we should be producing accessibility websites,

  • but in this case, we actually went and did something about it.

  • At this point, testing cross-browser had been a significant and limiting piece of work recently.

  • Adding mobile browsers generated mobile apps to the list of things to check felt pretty

  • natural, and everybody wanted to be on the everybody's phone and we all just did it.

  • That's the front-end.

  • On the back-end, you have Node, which at this point is still fairly new, or at least is

  • still being treated that way.

  • It's gone through a few years of people insisting it's merely a novelty, and people insisting

  • it will never have the robustness of Engine X, or Ruby, or the corporate assured reliability

  • of .NET.

  • Express has existed a few minutes after Node was released so people have been using Node

  • as a web server all this time.

  • Even the Node community itself has been trying to distance Node from being a web server.

  • I always read it as an unfortunate giving into pressure from hacker news-type people

  • to be more serious.

  • There is nothing more serious than hardware.

  • At this time, you can assume that you will see people playing with circuit boards with

  • lights on them, and somebody's nocopter will be sitting on the ground, gathering speculation

  • about what actually needs to be fixed, and how sweet it's going to be when it actually

  • runs.

  • The hardware is just marketing being useful things to do with JavaScript, not necessarily

  • ma'am-up and not individual interfaces.

  • Why not?

  • Scripting languages are lovely to work with if introducing the additional layer of abstraction

  • doesn't slow things down massively.

  • JavaScript has been getting faster, more powerful for years at this point, so that easier adoption

  • makes it a very attractive interface to code against.

  • There's one more big things that is happening at this point in time, which is that there

  • is a JavaScript phone, and at a conference like this, a bunch of people would have had

  • one.

  • We talked a little bit about - we will talk about Firefox OS in a second.

  • You may or may not have noticed there's an elephant in this room.

  • Maybe it's more clear when it seemed like we could have a JavaScript phone, but what

  • made us think if we should?

  • If you're thinking that was a really good idea, why didn't that happen?

  • Why do you think that?

  • Personally, I wondered if today it's too late?

  • I don't know if people still feel this way, or if the ship has sailed?

  • Several years ago, though, it was too early to wonder that.

  • Another advantage for Apple and Google sharing the smartphone monopoly is they have had the

  • privilege of training us all to use their products.

  • If you think back, though, people used to have tons of complaints about the phone interfaces.

  • But if your echo chamber is like mine, that sort of grumbling has died down over the recent

  • years, and if anything, you're left with a sniping back and forth about whether Android

  • or iOS is better.

  • Probably not even that, though.

  • Because we have no or limited opportunity for personalisation, and for deviation from

  • this sort of single-sanction set of use cases, there's nothing on our smartphones really

  • to get invested in now.

  • That didn't used to be true.

  • There are probably even now things on your phone that kind of annoy you, but you found

  • workarounds for them.

  • Like maybe the mail client isn't full-featured enough, or the maps give bad directions, the

  • system preferences seem intentionally hard to set and confusing.

  • I think the big reason that people wanted a JavaScript phone is because several years

  • ago, the most serious JavaScript developers still have experience writing interfaces.

  • Even if we weren't designers per se, we felt we could do better.

  • Because phones at that point were like this trash heap of badly functioning operating

  • system and carrier-installed apps and the third-party apps that might have improved

  • that situation were treated and super sketchy.

  • I believe people wanted JavaScript phones because they wanted to make the software on

  • their phones live up to the promise of the hardware.

  • So you've been very patient waiting for me to say something about Firefox OS, and now

  • I'm going to say something about Firefox OS.

  • Mozilla had a project called Boot to Gecko that was meant to give us JavaScript phones.

  • Mozilla was probably the only company that could have pulled this off, being a huge company

  • that nonetheless maintained an open back-and-forth with the web community as a whole and isn't

  • the growth diabetic focused business the same as Apple and Google were.

  • The idea was to bring a smartphone to everybody by using the power of web technologies.

  • That's clearly not happened.

  • To understand why, we need to talk a bit about hardware and what goes on inside these little

  • machines.

  • Your phone is a tiny little computer, but it's also kind of not.

  • It contains a lot of the same pieces as the computers that you work with, the processor,

  • modem, sound, and graphics cards.

  • They're in a different format.

  • In the old days, personal computers were hobbyist devices, and you could build it yourself to

  • has your own machine.

  • Even big-brand desktop machines as recently as the dawn of wildly available cell phones

  • were the things that you expected to customise, but that's never been the case with phones.

  • Handheld devices have always been largely single units that weren't intended to be customised,

  • let alone built from spare parts.

  • Today, you can still get a GSM shield, and you can make something similar to a phone

  • but a long way from from the definition of mobile phone.

  • Similarly, you can sit at your computer and do pretty much everything your phone does,

  • just using different networks, but we still don't recognise your computer as a phone.

  • The size is a big part of what makes a phone a phone, but the size is only important because

  • it offers portability.

  • And portability is only useful if you can connect at that cell network.

  • This the - the protocol is needed to negotiate a negotiation with a cellphone tower are only

  • licensed to carriers.

  • It's not quite as exclusive as it might sound.

  • Even the carriers who have their own communications infrastructure will regularly rent space on

  • other networks for the client's communications.

  • But it's another hurdle for anyone who wants to start making phones.

  • This hardware needs to be certified by the individual carriers that it's going to connect

  • to, and then it also needs to be approved by the relevant governing bodies in whatever

  • countries it will be used in, for example, the FCC in the United States.

  • And none of the hardware in the phone exists in isolation, so, if you love writing integration

  • tests and stress tests, you will probably spend a lifetime being entertained by getting

  • the hardware certified.

  • On the other hand, if you have some different agenda by actually releasing something, just

  • passing tests and getting certifications could kind of end up being a <